Stuff website has again invited readers to submit their arguments regarding the proposed legalisation of assisted dying in New Zealand.
I can’t think of any new argument in favour of assisted dying – the one that has been in place for the past 35 years is still the one that best argues the case for it.
This is the certain fact that a small percentage of New Zealand citizens die appallingly bad deaths, notwithstanding the fact that palliative care in our country is well advanced. Research shows that somewhere between 4 – 10% of patients in palliative care suffer greatly as they die.
We have some 14,000 palliative care patients each year. Even at a low 4% (not a high 10%) this number is 560 patients annually.
There are no figures that I can find measuring percentages of bad deaths for those who do not have access to palliative care, perhaps because quality of death is unimportant to measure outside of it. But add this number (to be conjectured) to the bad deaths actually measured inside of palliative care and you will get upwards of 560 patients a year - probably well upwards of that.
Submissions to the Health select committee (Maryan Street petition) and to the Justice select committee after the First Reading of the David Seymour bill testify to these harrowing, unnecessarily prolonged deaths. They happened. They were witnessed to have happened.
Those opposed to assisted dying also have no new arguments.
On the one hand, there is the “sanctity of life argument”. This ideology may sit well with the 15% of people who oppose assisted dying but not with the rest of us who are undecided or who positively want assisted dying to be legalised. The mere expression has religious connotations and is distinct from everyman's understanding that life is precious and to be treasured, but not necessarily "holy". Sanctus means "holy in Latin and at the last census, 42% of New Zealanders professed no religion whatsoever.
On the other hand there are the hypotheses regarding the potential for “coercion and abuse of the vulnerable” if assisted dying is legalised, but that are not borne out in fact in jurisdictions that have long practiced assisted dying.
So if we purposefully withhold the means of a peaceful death from a patient who is suffering unendurably and irreversibly, do we not practice coercion and abuse of the most cruel, provable and directly observable kind?
Opponents of assisted dying raise a tiny handful of cases under investigation worldwide to counter the 560+ observable and reported cases of abusive coercion in New Zealand alone.
The quest for the right to a gentle death will not go away. Every day, more citizens are questioning the moral right of a society to subject its citizens to grueling death in the name of ideology and unproven hypothesis.
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.