End of Life Choice Bill first reading – Julie Anne Genter

Speech from Green MP Julie Anne Genter in the first reading of the End of life Choice Bill on 13 December 2017.

END OF LIFE CHOICE BILL

First Reading

Hon JULIE ANNE GENTER (Minister for Women): Tēnā koe, Mr Speaker. Tēnā koutou e Te Whare. If there’s one thing that all of us in this House have in common, it’s that we are all going to die, and all of our loved ones are going to die. And I’m sure that we also agree that life is precious and sacred, and all of us have an aspiration to have a long, healthy, happy life. We want that for our loved ones. We want that for our community.

We’re also not just individuals. Well, we are individuals in one sense and we want to have control over our own lives and some autonomy. We are also interdependent members of communities, and the health of our communities influences our own happiness and well-being. So in recognising that interdependence and also our autonomy, I think it is incredibly important that we recognise the passion that is held on both sides of this debate.

I sat on the select committee when we listened to days and days of submissions on this very issue, and there are very strongly held views on both sides. I think it’s an absolute privilege to be here as a representative and have the opportunity to consider the evidence, consider the weight of the views, and to cast a personal vote. This is unusual, actually, for the Green Party, because often we vote along with our party policy, and we do have party policy on end of life, but Mr Seymour’s bill goes further than our party policy.

The Green Party’s agreed party policy on this recognises that there should be a framework within which someone with a terminal illness who has less than six months to live can apply to have assistance to end their life and that that be very carefully regulated to ensure that there is no abuse of that power. But this bill goes slightly further than that, and I do have concerns about how broad the nature of the bill is. I want to voice the concerns that I know are out there, particularly in the disability sector, that this bill, as drafted, is a bit too broad and may in fact jeopardise those who are more vulnerable, who are not in a position to make necessarily a fully informed, autonomous decision or who might feel pressure from others to end their lives early. But I also, having listened to all those submissions and looked at the evidence, I do think that there is a very compelling case that this issue isn’t about suicide. It’s about what happens when somebody is already very close to death.

Modern medicine has enabled us an incredible ability to extend life to the point at which we may question whether the quality of life is that what we would want. So, understanding all of the concerns that I have heard, I do think that this bill should progress to the select committee. I personally would like to see it amended, because I do believe that the evidence is, in other jurisdictions, that it is entirely possible to have a framework in which people are secure that there is no risk of abuse. In fact, the evidence from jurisdictions that have physician assisted dying show that it’s very, very small numbers of people who end up using it. So the idea that somehow there would be doctors out there, licensed to kill people at will, is very far from what I think we are actually debating with this bill.

I think that we heard enough people who raised the issue of how difficult it was and how unfair it seemed that while we had modern medicine to enable us to extend life, when there was no choice, no option but for someone to die, they weren’t able to have that death assisted in a way that made it more comfortable and made it possible for them to have family around them and made it possible for them to avoid being in horrific situations as such happens with things like motor neuron disease and other types of illnesses. So I will be voting for this bill to go to the select committee, and I’m sure that can be amended in a way that would ensure the safeguarding of those with disabilities and other vulnerable people.