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End of Life Choice - media will be the battleground

Article by Ann David - POSTED 18 July 2018

The Justice select committee has its work cut out to sift through some 30,000 submissions on the End of Life Choice bill prior to the late September deadline. And Chair Raymond Huo will need all his leadership skills to arm wrestle the wily Hon Maggie Barry into a semblance of objectivity, since she managed to get herself appointed as his Deputy. 

From an outsider’s perspective, the composition appears balanced: he voted Yes at the first reading and she voted No.  But he is a rank amateur at the game of emotive vocabulary and scaremongering whereas she is a seasoned campaigner, fluent in all the coercion/abuse/slippery slope arguments, the darling of palliative care whose smiling mascot she is in Parliament.   

She will make much of the fact that 80% of submissions oppose assisted dying. She should know – she would have provoked hundreds of them herself when she “consulted with” her constituents in various church porches, straight after Mass.  

She will quote the palliative care submission warning that subtle coercion will lurk ever-present at the bedside, prompting marginalised patients to do the decent thing and sign up for “killing”.  To her relief, the select committee will not be visiting overseas jurisdictions where assisted dying is practiced, so will not be able to personally question and scrutinise statistics for themselves that deny this.  Consequently, it will remain a fear that will prey on the consciences of some MPs.

To show her sincerity and now that she is no longer a Minister, Barry will remind the committee that she has lodged her own member’s bill in the ballot: the Access to Palliative Care bill. If drawn and successful, it will require massive amounts of additional funding for palliative care, so it’s a good thing she didn’t think of it while she and National were in government.

Having her own bill in the ballot will also enable Barry to counter any submissions describing appalling deaths inside the walls of palliative care itself as simply the result of insufficient resourcing to date.  All to be fixed by her bill so that it never, ever happens again.

Meantime, Act Leader David Seymour is travelling around the country holding townhall meetings to promote his End of Life Choice bill. His next stop is Whanganui where he will present in the august company of Barry herself. She will counter his presentation with her own on palliative care as the only way to go (pun intended).

Trumpeting her forthcoming Whanganui visit is MP for Tamaki, Simon O’Connor, the seminarian-turned-politician who chaired the Health select committee hearing submissions on New Zealanders’ attitudes to the need for assisted dying. Unsurprisingly, that committee’s report was just a taxpayer-bleeding summary of all the facts we already knew –arguments in favour, arguments against, no recommendations.   

O’Connor popped an opinion piece into the Wanganui Chronicle demanding that “Seymour must be convinced that no one will ever be coerced into dying for the convenience or financial gain of another.”   

We must hope then that O’Connor will never have to make any law that is less than 100% fool-proof.  The fact that the End of Life Choice bill includes several safeguards that are over and above what is required for a patient to request terminal sedation or to have life support switched off is just not good enough, in his view.   He prefers a different kind of coercion: the coercion of patients into prolonged suffering against their will by withholding the means of a peaceful death from them.   

Columnist Jay Kuten hit back at O’Connor the following day with his own opinion piece: Sham concern for the elderly. Witty and provocative, the retired forensic psychologist pulled professional rank and quipped that the End of Life Choice bill defines what it takes to determine mental competency more stringently than the definition of mental competency required to serve in Parliament!

This is taking place against a backdrop of recent citizens’ initiatives to assert autonomy over their own death. West Australian Prof David Goodall ended his life peacefully at an assisted dying clinic in Switzerland aged 104.  Also across the Tasman, 36-year old Scott Riddle describes his anger that the NSW Parliament failed to pass assisted dying laws by just one vote last year.  He has recently been diagnosed with stage four cancer and wants the option to die on his own terms.  He is educated, business-savvy, vocal and has recently begun to campaign alongside Dying with Dignity. 

We can expect the arguments for and against assisted dying to scorch the pages of newspapers and fry the airwaves over the coming months, increasing in shrillness right up to the second reading. The media will be the battleground for public opinion and public opinion might just shame the politicians into the democratic choice: Yes.

If you enjoy writing, please write to your local newspaper. The pen is mightier than the sword (Edward Bulwer-Lytton, 1839).


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. 


End of Life Choice - media will be the battleground

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