End of Life Choice Bill first reading – Chris Penk

Speech from National MP Chris Penk in the first reading of the End of life Choice Bill on 13 December 2017.

END OF LIFE CHOICE BILL

First Reading

CHRIS PENK (National—Helensville): Thank you, Mr Speaker. I rise to speak against this bill. At the heart of this bill is the question of choice, and yet we must all acknowledge that assisted suicide, or euthanasia—by whatever name we call, it is a choice to end all choices. It is, by definition, irreversible—the end. That it shares with any other form of suicide. As such, we should proceed exceedingly carefully before even considering whether so-called safeguards may mitigate some of the worst aspects of it.

It is this nature of choice that is being promoted by those who have brought this bill to the House that we must attack. We must understand clearly the concepts of undue influence and coercion that undermine choice and that play on the minds of those who are vulnerable, and those who are vulnerable are the very ones who would be wanting to access this in that moment of time in their vulnerability.

In their depression, people are vulnerable. To be depressed is literally to be pushed down. When one is pushed down, one is not capable of making good decisions. One is not capable of understanding fully the consequences of one’s actions, and yet this bill would allow people the ability to make, in that vulnerable state, in that vulnerable condition, a choice that would end all other choices. So many of our fellow New Zealanders, young and old, have already made that choice; they have no further choices left. It is a subject that this House rightly concerns itself with and should continue to do so. We must do more to discourage suicide and other forms of ending life prematurely, and not encourage more of it. Much has been said on the subject of dignity too. Those in favour of the bill, at least to the first reading stage, have described a situation of a life they say that lacks dignity at that point. Disabled constituents of mine have said to me, “Do not let anyone tell you that certain conditions equate to a lack of dignity. They are describing my life.” They say to me, “This is my life. I am happy with it. I have dignity and for anyone in the Parliament to suggest otherwise is quite simply intolerable.”

We’ve heard about so-called safeguards, for example, the suggestion that one might be able to exercise this choice if one has a terminal illness. One might have a diagnosis of a terminal illness but not, in fact, have a terminal illness. One may have a mistaken diagnosis or indeed a mistaken prognosis, and one might make a decision based on that, and if that factual basis is proven to be incorrect, what recourse then does that person have? The answer is none, because the person will have died. Our criminal justice system admits the possibility of mistake as to facts and as to law; among other reasons this is why we do not have a law of capital punishment. Mistakes are made. If anyone in this House doubts that, they should ask Mr Teina Pora if that is so. If we allow people to be pressured into making a choice, or to make the choice seemingly of their own volition but based on a mistaken assumption as to facts, and if the facts, so called, prove to be incorrect later, there is no recourse, there is not opportunity to turn back the clock. They are, at that point, dead.

The intersection of our terrible rate of suicide in this country and our terrible record of elder abuse and neglect is this bill. There is much work we have to do in this Parliament on these subjects and, indeed, mental health in general. Will this bill encourage or undermine efforts to promote the real dignity, the real protection of life, the genuine role of the medical profession? I say no. I say we reject it, and if you are in favour of euthanasia, I say to members of this House, this bill is not the one for you; it is far too broad. We should reject it.