The changes were designed to satisfy the concerns of some MPs and of some of their constituents who may have fed those concerns through. The principal of these are:
- The “grievous and irremediable medical condition” clause has been dropped, as there was criticism that it was too open to interpretation.
- A clause has been added to make it explicitly clear that disability alone will not be sufficient to qualify a person to seek an assisted death. This should satisfy criticism that the disabled might become victims of coercion.
- A clause has been added to make it explicitly clear that a mental health issue alone will not be sufficient to qualify a person to seek an assisted death. This should satisfy criticism that people with a mental health problem could somehow become eligible.
All the other eligibility conditions remain namely:
- The terminally ill person must be in an advanced state of irreversible decline in capability and
- The terminally ill person must be experiencing unbearable suffering that cannot be relieved and
- The terminally ill person must have mental competency to decide and
- The doctors must be persuaded that the terminally ill person makes his/her choice free of coercion or influence by a third party.
I regret the first change, as I felt the Bill provided perfectly sufficient safeguards in its original form.
However, if any MP was uncertain or opposed, these changes should now come as welcome reassurance.
We know that 70% of New Zealanders have consistently called for a change to the law to allow assisted dying to be provided in some circumstances. 67% of nurses want the same. So do 37% of doctors.
MPs should not confuse their own personal ideology with trust placed in them by their electorate. Not in the matter of End of Life Choice. With the exception of MP David Seymour who sponsored the End of Life Choice Bill, not one MP campaigned on the assisted dying platform at the September 2017 general election – either for or against.
In fact, electors trying to understand the viewpoint of candidate MPs prior to the 2017 elections mostly drew a blank.
So for an MP to now hide behind the argument that his/her electors voted him/her in to make decisions on their behalf in this matter is simply deceitful. Voters did nothing of the kind.
Given the extreme conservatism of the Bill in its changed form, given that most MPs were at pains to hide their views on assisted dying before the elections, they should now vote in accordance with the majority will.
We know what that is: 70% in favour.
Ann David is a retired human resources professional living in Waikanae on the Kapiti Coast. She has been a campaigner for the right to die with dignity for the past 15 years, initially in Australia and since 2009, in New Zealand. She is a member of the End of Life Choice Society and of the NZARH.