Last week, visitors to Wellington from the state of Victoria were lawyer Julian Gardner and women’s disability advocate Tricia Malowney. They came to deliver the annual Lecretia Seales Memorial lecture.
By way of background, both were members of the advisory panel set up in Victoria to examine the need for assisted dying. Evidence showing that reform was needed, this advisory panel went on to propose draft legislation that culminated in the successful Voluntary Assisted Dying Act 2017.
During their lecture, they quoted some stunning statistics related to their home state which has a population of 6.3 million, about 28% larger than that of New Zealand at 4.9 million.
For example, in Victoria last year some 8,000 decisions were made by doctors and other third parties (e.g. nurses, health professionals in conjunction with family members) to end the life of a patient. The law accepts these decisions and their outcomes without question, choosing not to examine them for either rigour or due process.
Although we should expect a lesser number of such decisions in New Zealand (about 5,750 when adjusted for our smaller population), our law accepts them equally without question.
We are willing to blindly trust that a third-party decision to end a life was made with integrity. We just assume the decision was guided by a thorough assessment of hopelessness, irreversibility and suffering though the patient was unable to contribute information personally. We have faith that the doctor was not coerced by insistent family members. We like to believe it was what the patient would have wanted, though we can’t possibly know for sure at that last moment. But we accept.
And if we can accept the integrity of an unscrutinised third-party decision to end life, we wonder what possible grounds there could be for criticism of the infinitely better-safeguarded End of Life Choice bill! The bill is superior in structure, superior in process, superior in transparency, superior in authenticity. The bill is safe.