Record number of submissions on euthanasia Bill

The  Justice Select Committee has received a record number of public submissions on the End of Life Choice Bill. Most of those oppose the Bill, but despite claims that represents strong public opposition it is more indicative of strong organisation in trying to oppose the Bill.

Family First have made a common but ridiculous claim:  Overwhelming Majority Tell MPs To Kill The Euthanasia Bill

Family First NZ, a member of the Care Alliance which has analysed the almost-39,000 submissions made regarding David Seymour’s assisted suicide bill, says that there is overwhelming opposition to the bill being considered by Parliament and that MPs should vote against the bill at 2nd Reading.

The analysis reveals the following:
• Overall, 91.8% were opposed to the Bill
• 93.5% of submissions received from doctors, nurses and other health care staff were opposed
• 90.6% of organisations which submitted were opposed
• 90.5% of submissions made no reference at all to religious arguments
• all submissions made by churches were opposed, including a Buddhist group and a Muslim charitable organisation supported by 13 other Muslim welfare groups and organisations within NZ

This means there is a lot of opposition to the bill, but it makes no measure of overall public opposition or support of the bill. The 35,000 who submitted in opposition is a small minority of New Zealand voters.

RNZ picked up on this line of opposition:  Majority of submissions against bill to legalise euthanasia

The Care Alliance, which represents some groups opposed to euthanasia, analysed the nearly 38,000 submissions made to the Justice Select Committee on the End of Life Choice Bill.

Care Alliance Secretary Peter Thirkell said it was a record number of submissions for any bill, and more than 90 percent were opposed.

“These are heartfelt. This is a cross-section of all New Zealanders, and they are very well-informed submissions – these aren’t just a few people with funny ideas,” Dr Thirkell said.

It is disingenuous to claim “This is a cross-section of all New Zealanders” – it is a section of New Zealanders who were organised by the care Alliance and Family First to submit in opposition.

David Seymour has reacted: Care Alliance vs polling science on End of Life Choice

Analysing Select Committee submissions on the End of Life Choice Bill is no match for 20 years of research on New Zealanders’ support for the choice of assisted dying, says ACT Leader David Seymour.

“Reputable polling companies have time and time again found the vast majority of New Zealanders support assisted dying and welcome a change to our laws. A review of 20 years’ research into New Zealander’s attitudes to assisted dying by the University of Otago found that 68 per cent support change.”

This chart from the Young study shows the vast difference between support running consistently at around 70 per cent, opposition at around 20 per cent, and undecideds at around 10 per cent in 17 polls taken since 2002. These polls were taken by reputable firms such as Colmar Brunton and Reid Research, which most recently found 75 and 71 per cent support, respectively.

The Care Alliance are at pains to stress that the opposition to the bill was not, in the main, religiously motivated. However the church asked people not to use religious language in their submissions and its Bishops have defended the practice.

“90.5% of submissions made no reference at all to religious arguments” was one of the things analysed.

These mismatches between select committee submissions on an issue and public opinion are not new. The Committee considering the issue of civil unions found over 83 per cent of submissions were opposed to a law change at a time when the majority of New Zealanders were in favour of liberalisation. MPs understood this and voted civil unions into law.

“It is a shame that the Select Committee process has been misused in this way, emphasising the quantity of submissions over their quality.”

The Select Committee process hasn’t been misused – any member of the public has a right to submit. And it has been common for a long time for groups to organise submissions to inflate numbers in support of or in opposition to Bills. The only difference here is the number of submitters.

And it has also long been common for groups to misrepresent what number of submissions means. I have even seem elected councillors and MPs either misunderstand or misrepresent  what numbers of submissions.

It is up to the Select Committee to evaluate the submissions – MPs on committees should al be well aware of attempts to make numbers of submissions mean more than they do. The Select Committee will make recommendations to Parliament, and then all MPs will vote on whether to allow the bill to proceed or not.

If the Bill passes the Second and Third Reading votes in Parliament it is likely to then go to a referendum. That is likely to be what the ‘Care Alliance’ is trying to stop from happening.

But it could take a while –  Euthanasia bill timetable extended as record 35,000 submissions received

The timetable for the Justice Select Committee’s report on the End of Life Choice Bill has been extended after a record 35,000 submissions were received.

The select committee MPs will visit the regions in order to hear oral submissions on the bill, finally reporting back to Parliament at the end of March next year.

Will there be time from there to progress the bill through the second and third readings, then include it in a referendum held alongside the general election late next year as has been intimated might happen if the Bill passes through Parliament?

The member’s bill, sponsored by ACT’s David Seymour, would make it legal for those with a terminal illness or irremediable medical condition the choice of assisted death, otherwise known as euthanasia. It passed first reading last December 76 to 44.

That vote might get closer as it progresses through the readings.

“The Justice Committee intends to hear from all submitters who have asked to be heard,” chairperson Raymond Huo said.

“Hearing evidence in the regions will help ensure that as many individuals and community organisations as possible can present their views and that the Committee take account of all of the submissions in an open minded and balanced way.”

Deputy chairperson Maggie Barry said the huge number of submissions showed how strongly Kiwis felt about the issue.

“The Committee could not have done the submitters justice if we had refused to travel or hear everyone who asked to be heard. It was therefore essential we had the six month extension to allow us to give due consideration to the enormous task ahead of us,” Barry said.

Oral submissions begin in Parliament today.

It will be a year for it to be reported back to the full Parliament.

See also The Spinoff – Submissions show tough euthanasia fight ahead

The analysis of the submissions as a whole paints a fascinating picture of who was making them, and how they argued their case. The vast majority didn’t reference religious arguments, though some churches are understood to have strongly encouraged parishioners to write in. The vast majority were also uniquely written – that is, they weren’t just a form letter or postcard which groups sometimes use to pile submissions up. More than one in ten were longer than a page in length. All of that indicates a significant amount of vehemence behind the views.

Of course, tens of thousands of submissions still doesn’t add up to a majority of the electorate, or even remotely close to it.

Lecretia Seales assisted dying case versus pressure group inteference

Lecretia Seales has a brain tumour and has taken her case to court to clarify whether her doctor can assist her death so she can avoid extended suffering. Stuff reports:

Terminally ill Wellington lawyer Lecretia Seales…, 42, has an inoperable brain tumour and has begun a court case in which she wants to test the law.

In the High Court at Wellington on Tuesday, her lawyer, Andrew Butler, said the case was about clarifying the criminal law, not changing it or trying to “lift a ban”.

It was only about Seales, and raised quite narrow issues that would not have any application to the elderly or disabled, for instance.

Seales was not interested in having a big debate about euthanasia, he said.

Seales wants to make sure her GP would not face charges under the Crimes Act if or when Seales was helped to die. The doctor’s name is suppressed.

Sounds sad, and sounds like a sensible test for the law.

It’s fairly well known that doctors and others able to administer drugs already ease peoples’ deaths. I’ve seen this happen with someone whose death I was closely associated with.

So it makes sense to clarify the law around this. Otherwise some people are lucky enough to get help to ease suffering, while others don’t have the choice.

And because it happens in a grey area of the law and of medical ethics it is easier for misuse or mistakes to happen.

If the law was clarified people who are suffering and dying wouldn’t have to deal with ambiguity and secrecy. It would also make it easier for families – the example I was associated with was bloody difficult to deal with until I understood what was happening.

But ‘special interest groups’ are trying to interfere with Seales’ case.

Seales faces attempts by special interest groups to have a say on her legal plea to be allowed the option of a medically assisted death.

Three parties are asking to be allowed to “intervene” in the case.

For the Human Rights Commission, Matthew Palmer, QC, said it was not a normal “adversarial” case. The orders being sought would seem to offer assisted dying in certain circumstances, and that had wide implications for society.

“If ever there was a case of widespread public importance, this is it.”

The commission would offer independent submissions and would not take a position on the ultimate question in the case, he said.

At least they are trying to be balanced and neutral on the emotional aspects.

The defendant in Seales’ case is the attorney-general, who is currently National MP Chris Finlayson. His lawyer, Paul Rishworth, QC, said it plainly raised issues of significant public importance, and the parties that wanted to intervene might be able to help the court.

But the Crown could gather evidence from palliative care specialists and others to cover the issues the case raised.

That’s up to the crown, but other groups seem intent on using Seales’ case to push their own.

The Care Alliance represents groups opposed to physician-assisted suicide and physician-assisted euthanasia. Its lawyer, Victoria Casey, said palliative care professionals and some groups representing the disabled were directly affected, and their views should be heard.

Seales is opposing them being allowed to take part in the case, but Casey said members of the alliance were best placed to give evidence and analysis of relevant issues.

The Voluntary Euthanasia Society is also seeking to intervene.

Kathryn Davenport, QC, for the Voluntary Euthanasia Society, said Seales was asking for a personal decision, but the case could not be seen in isolation.

If Seales was happy for this to happen then fair enough. But it sounds like she doesn’t want any interference.

Both sides of the euthanasia debate want to hijack Seales’ case to promote their own interests. It’s not their case. They can take their own legal action if they want to.

Seales’ case could easily be seen in isolation. Sure it would affect other cases, that’s how our legal system works.

3 News reported:

Care Alliance says if Ms Seales gets her wish it would set a dangerous precedent and could be applied to anyone with a terminal illness.

That sounds like scaremongering. It could be applied to anyone, whether ill or not. But that’s a stupid exaggeration.

The whole point of Seale’s case is she is requesting the option of an assisted death.She is prepared to test it in court.

The courts are never going to start ‘applying law’ to people who don’t want it applied to them.

Obviously time is important for Seales

Justice David Collins said he would give his decision as soon as possible on whether the three interveners were allowed to be part of the case. The full hearing is due to start on May 25.

3 News: in a blog post, Ms Seales’ husband Matt said: “If Lecretia were to commit suicide, she would need to do it alone, as anyone else present would risk a criminal conviction. The act would be extremely traumatic for her and her family. It’s not an option.”

Sadly now she has publicised her situation the risk of scrutiny and criminal conviction is much greater.

The court should do what it can to make a fair legal ruling. Special interest groups should stop pushing their own interests.

Seales is making brave moves, by openly her facing options as she dies, and by doing something that attracts publicity.

The law may or may not benefit her. But the special interest groups should back off unless their input is asked for.