Dear Member of Parliament New Zealand,
If ever you were tempted to hide behind palliative care as a substitute for assisted dying, this report should dissuade you. The link below will take you to the latest Patient Outcomes report published by Palliative Care Australia, and we’d be foolish to imagine that our own patient outcomes are much different. Patient Outcomes In Palliative Care.
Page 30 provides assessments made by clinicians on the degree of suffering experienced by patients in the terminal phase.
The best outcome is for those who die in hospital or hospice, where 6% nevertheless die experiencing severe pain and severe suffering from other symptoms (e.g. suffocating, choking, drowning in one’s own lung fluids).
How many New Zealanders die in palliative care each year in our own country? 5,000 perhaps? 6% = 300 people. That cohort does not deserve to have you look the other way.
You probably believe that people have a right to a good life. That, surely, would include a good death. On the evidence above, assisted dying must therefore be included among the options available. Palliative care is not a panacea; it would be disingenuous to pretend otherwise.
Please allow me to give you a bit of feedback from the electorate.
Most Saturday mornings will find me at a local market handing out information on David Seymour’s End of Life Choice Bill. I wear a T-shirt with “My Life, My Death, My Choice” printed on it.
People see me and track over to sign a petition to our local MP to vote YES at the Second Reading in April. From meeting hundreds of people face to face, talk to talk, this is what I’ve learned:
- Most people don’t know what electorate they live in or who their MP is.
- Most people have no idea about the contents of David Seymour’s End of Life Choice Bill.
- Most people have no idea about Parliamentary process from Bill to Act.
- Most people didn’t make a submission to the Justice select committee and didn’t know they could have done so. They are grateful to me for taking a “Please Vote YES” petition on their behalf to our MP.
- Most people want assisted dying to be legalised in New Zealand and are shocked to hear that 90% of submissions opposed it. They’d imagined the reverse.
- Most people have heard about Lecretia Seales and believe it was cruel to deny her a peaceful death.
Their reasons for wanting assisted dying to be legalised range from personal stories through to a belief that forcing dying people to suffer against their will is morally wrong.
They don’t care whether the disease is classified “terminal” or “grievous and irremediable medical condition”. They just want effective law; one that enables severely suffering patients to access relief when all else has been tried and failed, while protecting the ineligible from slipping through.
They know palliative care can do much good, but some have personally seen its limitations. Should palliative care receive additional funding? Most definitely it should. But it will never, ever be a satisfactory substitute for assisted dying. It can be the very best alternative to it, but when it fails? What then for the six percent?
I ask you please to vote YES to the End of Life Choice Bill in April.
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.