End of Life Choice Bill first reading – Louisa Wall

Speech from Labour MP Louisa Wall in the first reading of the End of life Choice Bill on 13 December 2017.


First Reading

LOUISA WALL (Labour—Manurewa): Tēnā koe, e Te Māngai o Te Whare. Should the timing of one’s end of life be a choice? Who knows when? How do you know? A terminal diagnosis seems to be a criterion. How about an exhaustion of all possible treatment options? That means you’ve reached a point in the illness that you have where doctors can’t help you, the health system can’t help you, and, indeed, society can’t help you. If one is to die, should they be able to choose when and how in exercising a private choice or making a private decision?

We are “born free and equal in dignity and rights.” That was part of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was the third declaration that the UN passed on 10 December 1948. It was expressed in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights on 16 December 1966. Civil and political rights are defined as “a class of rights that protect individuals’ freedom from infringement by governments, social organizations, and private individuals. They ensure one’s ability to participate in the civil and political life of the society and state without discrimination or repression.” What is repression? It’s restraint, it’s something that we’re prevented from doing, or it’s an inhibition of.

In June 2015, Lecretia Seales received the High Court decision of a case that she had lodged in December 2014. The High Court said that she did not have the right to die. Justice David Collins said that it was unlawful for Lecretia to be allowed a doctor’s help to die at a time of her own choosing. Lecretia’s response to this decision was—and I quote—”Isn’t this my body? My life?” Then she died. That was six months after she had lodged the High Court appeal for the court to enable her to end her life.

My support for this End of Life Choice Bill is based on the judgment by Justice Collins, and he highlighted that “the status quo is not ideal [and] that people are at risk of intolerable suffering and … of ending their lives earlier than they would otherwise.” He put this kaupapa back to Parliament and said that it was for Parliament to address these issues. Parliament makes the law and then courts interpret the law only, and that’s actually a principle of our democracy. We have rule of law and the sovereignty of Parliament, and, actually, that’s why we are all here today.

A citizen of our country went to the courts for a right, and the courts have said that she didn’t have that right and that it was for Parliament to create a mechanism, to create an opportunity, for a person in Lecretia Seales’ position—someone with a terminal illness who’d fought that disease. She and her husband and her family fought it. She had treatment. Tumours were removed. She went into remission. She wanted to live. They were going to have a family. They’d engaged a surrogate. She wanted to live, and it came back—the cancer came back. When it came back, she had more treatment, and there was a point where we said, “We can’t help you any more. You are going to die.” So it’s up to us as a Parliament, now that the courts have intervened as much as they can, to provide a mechanism for people like Lecretia.

This isn’t about systemic change; this is about individual choice. I am standing up for Lecretia because her story moved me—a woman with much dignity that the courts said actually understood fully what she was asking for. She was competent, she was clear, and, with the support of her family, she wanted to choose a point at which her life would end. And why? Because she argued that her definition of dignity, which was her human rights argument, was actually about the respect that she was starting to lose for herself. She couldn’t care for herself. She couldn’t go to the toilet. People had to look after her. It was degrading for her, and I cannot see why, as a first step, we can’t allow this bill to go to select committee and have the discussion and fix this bill if there are issues with it. Kia ora tātou.

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