PEOPLE WITH DECADES TO LIVE WILL DIE UNDER MY BILL
David Seymour, the sponsor of the End of Life Choice Bill has conceded to the New Zealand Parliament that mistakes will be made in prognosis:
we all know, and I'm very pleased to know, people who had terminal prognoses a decade ago who are now walking around living very full lives and are very, very happy to still be alive. It is true that if we know somebody like that, it's very likely that we think of them.
However, Seymour effectively argued that it doesn’t matter (or matter enough) that some people who could have lived for decades will die unnecessarily – it is worth it to give others:
who want to choose to go on their terms, with their timing, the choice to have it their way.
Debate on the details of the End of Life Choice Bill began in the Parliament of New Zealand on Wednesday, 31 July 2019. After several hours of debate just 3 of the 28 clauses of the Bill had passed.
Promoter of the Bill, David Seymour, reluctantly moved an amendment to the Bill excluding its application to persons “with a grievous and irremediable” condition who were not likely to die within 6 months.
In doing so he made it clear that this was only for tactical reasons to ensure the passage of the Bill:
I still think, and always will believe, that it is a good criteria for somebody to access assisted dying.
The Hon Dick Smith (National ), along with other speakers, spoke about the risk of wrongful deaths due to the unavoidable errors made by doctors in diagnosis, prognosis, identifying coercion and assessing decision making capacity:
Now my concerns are this, the basics of this bill depend on a level of certainty from medical practitioners that does not exist. That is, at the select committee we heard from not hundreds but actually over a thousand different medical practitioners who said that when we put in a law and say that this law on this assisted suicide should only apply to people, for instance, that have six months or less to live. The mover and supporters of the bill say "Well that's great. Nobody who's got more than six months to live is going to be covered by this bill." Well, that's not true. The medical profession has made plain to the select committee and to the Parliament that these medical judgments are not 100 percent accurate. Whether it is the judgment about the length of life that person has to live, whether it is the judgment whether that person is being coerced or is being inappropriately influenced, or the judgment, and actually one of the most difficult judgments is that judgment, as to whether a person is of sound mind.
So I say to this Parliament, if you really believe that we have a duty to protect life, and that this law would fail if even a single person dies when they did not intend to or should not have then we need to be upfront that these provisions in Part 1 cannot give—impossible to be ever—100 percent surety that mistakes will not be made.
Jamie Strange (Labor) illustrated this point with a very moving story:
There's a man and a woman, Glenn and Heather, and they got married in their early 20s. When they were in their mid-20s Glenn developed a brain tumour. About that time, they had a young daughter named Rachael. Glenn was given three months to live by the doctor. He was in his mid-20s and given three months to live. He defied the doctor. He lived for another period of, sort of, three or four years. Again he was given the diagnosis: three months to live, two months to live. He defied again. He lasted a few more years. Again, he defied the doctor three times.
He finally passed away when his daughter Rachael was nine years of age. Now, Rachael had nine years with her father and during that time Rachael as a young girl used to dress up as a nurse and look after her father. She had that valuable time with him. I actually spoke to Rachel and I said, "What was that time like? What were those nine years like?" She said, "Look, there is nothing that I wouldn't trade for those nine years." She values those nine years so highly. She once said to her mum, Heather, "If you and dad had decided to euthanise dad I really don't know how I would have forgiven you for that."
Maori MP, Jo Hayes, spoke of her sister’s recent death from cancer surrounded by whanau (extended family):
This bill goes against everything that is in my [Maori] culture. We have our children. We treasure our children. We treasure each other. And there is no way that we would ever want to see a bill like this passed into any piece of the legislation of this country
And I ask all of those who are supporting this bill to walk in my shoes. I have had a history of my whānau dying from cancer-related diseases whereby we sat through their journey as they passed over. And I would never trade that for anything in the world. They would never have opted or even thought about the possibility of dying, or being forced, or having options like this because we treasure life. And I believe that many of us in this Parliament actually treasure life. We treasure life.
I am saddened that the sponsor of the bill admits that there may be mistakes if this bill gets passed—there may be mistakes. Has life—has human life—got so little [value that] we've become so inconsiderate that we treat it like that. "Oh, it's just a mistake. That was a mistake." That's terrible. That's absolutely terrible.
Part 1 of the Bill passed as amended by the proponent by 70 -50 – the same as the vote at second reading.
The support of the 9 New Zealand First MPs is dependent on subjecting the Bill to a referendum. This issue has not yet been debated.
Debate on the Bill will probably resume on 21 August 2019.
Read the full debate here