Dunne, Seymour, Flavell on euthanasia bill

Three minor party leaders were asked about their positions on the End of Life Choice Bill that was recently drawn from the Members’ ballot in a joint interview on The Nation yesterday.

Obviously ACT leader David Seymour supports his own bill.

Mr Seymour, I want to bring up your bill that was pulled from the ballot this week – euthanasia. Is it good timing for you, or could this end up being a bit too controversial for an election year?

Seymour: Look, I think it’s an important issue, and I think that the fact that it’s come up in election year is probably the best time for the bill, because MPs are overwhelmingly out of step with public opinion. I think that there are a majority of MPs that will support it, but nowhere near as close as the overwhelming support—70%, 80% of New Zealanders want this change.

From a 2015 post here:  Two polls strongly support euthanasia

One News/Colmar Brunton:

Should a patient should be able to request a doctor’s assistance to end their life?

  • Yes 75%
  • No 21%
  • Undecided 5%

3 News/Reid Research

Should law be changed to allow “assisted dying” or euthanasia?

  • Yes 71%
  • No 24%
  • Unsure 5%

Stuff:  Most Kiwis support euthanasia for those with painful, incurable diseases

  • Support: 66%
  • Neutral or unsure: 21.7%
  • Strongly oppose: 12.3%

Total response 15,822 in a University of Auckland study taking it’s results from the 2014-15 New Zealand Attitudes and Values Study (NZAVS) survey, which Lee said provided “reliable demographic and personality differences in support for euthanasia”.

You have quite a conservative voter base, though. What do they think? Is this party policy for Act?

Seymour: I think that people in the Act Party are in favour of freedom and choice. The Act Party board blessed me putting this bill into the ballot.

Maori Party co-leader Te Ururoa Flavell:

Te Ururoa, you’re not keen on passing this bill, are you?

Flavell: No, and I suspect that many of our own people are. There’s some issues around whakapapa that are hugely important here. And the decision-making – actually, who has the decision-making right at the last minute, the ability of whanau to have an influence in the decision—

So is it a definite no for you?

Flavell: At the moment, it is leaning towards no, but we’re led by our people, and I’m pretty sure that that’s the feeling of many Maori.

If your people tell you otherwise, will you vote for this?

Flavell: We have to give it consideration. I mean, it’s a conscience vote, so we’ll cross that at the time. But certainly, this is one of the major issues that you’ve just got to go back to the people on.

That’s what all MPs should do on conscience votes – they should represent to conscience of their constituency.

United Future leader Peter Dunne:

Dunne: Well, I think you’ve got to respect the rights of people who are terminally ill to make their own decisions and to have those upheld by those around them. But I think—

So you’ll vote for this bill?

Dunne: No, what I’m saying is I think this is an issue where we’ve got to be very careful that we have a very clear sense of where the community stands. I’m going to do a lot of listening over the next few weeks, because this bill is not going to come before parliament – probably in the life of this parliament – but I want to hear what people say, because I think this is—

But as Mr Flavell says, it will be a conscience vote, so what does your conscience vote?

Dunne: Well, I’ve told you where I’m tending, but what I’m saying is that this is a decision that will have very widespread ramifications whichever way it goes. It’s important that we take the bulk of the population with us and we understand what their concerns are, and that’s why I’m going to do a lot of listening and not a lot of talking.

Again the right approach, but leaving how he might vote uncertain at this stage.

It seems unlikely the bill will go to it’s First reading and first vote before the election so not all current MPs will get to decide for us on this.

While I think it’s likely Seymour and Flavell will keep their seats it is less certain for Dunne.

It’s likely most Green and Labour MPs will support this bill at least past the first reading. I don’t now how NZ First MPs might vote. Most National MPs may vote against it.

But a lot may depend on who returns to Parliament after the election.

Bill English opposes euthanasia but if National lose power he may well resign.

End of Life Choice Bill

David Seymour’s ‘End of Life Choice’ Bill was drawn from today’s Members’ ballot. It is unlikely to be debated before the election, so a new intake of MPs will get to decide whether it progresses through Parliament.

I hope that it at least passes the First Reading vote and goes to select committee for consideration and for public submissions. From there it will depend on what form the bill ends up taking, in particular what safeguards are included, and then it should be up to conscience votes.

End of Life Choice Bill

This bill gives people with a terminal illness or a grievous and irremediable medical condition the option of requesting assisted dying.

It is a controversial subject and will no doubt be keenly debated, and there is likely to be  a lot of lobbying.

From ACT: Campaign to legalise assisted dying begins now

The End of Life Choice Bill has been drawn from Parliament’s ballot.

“The campaign starts now,” says ACT Leader David Seymour.

“We are long overdue for a compassionate response to the anguish faced by the small but significant minority of grievously and irremediably ill, or terminally ill, people. Current law leaves them no choice but to endure intolerable suffering and loss of dignity in the final days of their lives. The End of Life Choice Bill would allow people who so choose and are eligible to end their life in peace and dignity, surrounded by loved ones.

“Polling consistently shows strong support for allowing assisted dying for those with terminal illness or who are grievously and irremediably ill. It’s time to translate this support into action. This issue will likely be decided by a conscience vote, so I encourage all supporters of this cause to write to their local MPs and urge them to support the Bill at first reading so that the issue can be thoroughly considered through the select committee process.

“This is a debate which will take place around the country, not just in the media, but online and at homes and churches. I hope people respectfully engage in the discussion with friends and family, and also submit on the Bill as it reaches select committee stage.

“A copy of my Bill, together with further information including answers to common questions and criticisms, can be found on the campaign website, lifechoice.org.nz.”

Dunne supports discussion on end-of-life issues

Another thoughtful blog post from Peter Dunne on ‘end-of-life’ issues which although not named includes euthanasia.

The issue of end-of-life care is on the agenda again. I am not one who believes that doctors should be able to kill terminally ill patients, but then I doubt many New Zealanders do either. In any case, the issue is far more complex than that, which is why a wider inquiry is justified.

All of us who have experienced the pain of watching someone close to us suffer a lingering and often painful death have felt the anguish and powerlessness of wanting to do more to help, but being unable to do so.

We have admired the dedicated and compassionate efforts of those involved in palliative care and know of the medications now available to ease pain and make the last stages of life more comfortable, and are hugely appreciative of that.

But, at the same time, we are becoming more aware that end-of-life care is but one aspect of overall health care. Advanced care planning, where people discuss with family at earlier stages of life what their expectations are when they become old and/or frail or suffer from a terminal illness, is becoming equally important.

Similarly, understanding people’s expectations is also a significant consideration as well. At a time when the bulk of health spending occurs in the last five years of a person’s life, are we certain that is what they want, or do they simply want a dignified, managed exit?

Medicines management is another factor. For years now it has been an open secret that doctors manage the demise of terminal patients through adjustment to medication levels to ease suffering and assist gentle death.

Nor is it a new practice – King George V’s doctors reportedly managed his death nearly 80 years ago so that it could be announced in the morning papers. But doctors managing life as it ebbs away is different from actively securing its end.

Nevertheless, the moral argument about the sanctity of natural life and that no-one has the right to interfere with it begs the question somewhat. While I have sympathy with that view in an absolutist sense – hence my vehement, unwavering opposition to capital punishment – I acknowledge that in many terminal cases, it is questionable (as a consequence of medication and other life support measures) whether a patient is actually living a natural life any more. Therefore, the morally absolutist argument may no longer be relevant in all cases.

And then there is the question of free will. I was always taught that the most precious gift we possess – which defined us as human beings – is free will, the right to be able to decide for ourselves.

Any debate about the end of life cannot overlook this fundamental point. What a patient “wants” should rank ahead of what “we can do” for the patient in such circumstances, provided the patient’s decision is rational and informed, which brings us back to the advanced care planning argument. In such instances, do the rest of us have the right to override a patient’s wishes?

Providing a patient who requests it with the means to end life in such circumstances is arguably different from another person deliberately ending that life. The ultimate recognition of free will is, after all, respecting people’s exercise of it.

A public discussion about all these issues would be welcome and timely. Ideally, an independent expert panel should be established, with a wide-ranging brief to consider and advise upon all aspects of end-of-life care and how it should be managed. This inquiry should undertake widespread public consultation leading to the presentation of full and thorough recommendations to Parliament for action. For its part, Parliament needs to show its willingness to both lead and respond.

It’s good to see MPs contribute to thoughtful discussion, especially Ministers.

Personal ‘end of life’ experience

I’ve had recent first had experience with end of life issues when I was closely associated with the illness and death of my mother. She had the best possible palliative care through the Otago Hospice.

It has been suggested in the recent public debate in Dunedin that all that needs to happen is for more widespread top palliative care to be available to anyone that wants it.

And also here:

End-of-life issues authority, Otago University bioethics centre Professor Grant Gillett, said the issue was not clear.

The terminally-ill were often unsure about the situation, and wanted to know their options but not go through with any.

“It’s a feeling of being socially isolated, a fear they are going to lose control and that the illness is going to take over, that is behind a request.”

He said instead of giving in to the desire for euthanasia, it might be better to create a more caring approach to treatment.

To an extent this is the right approach. But from my experience it’s not the whole answer.

I couldn’t fault the palliative care my mother received – as far as they were able to provide comfort under the current laws. They seemed to be scrupulous in following the law.

But it was deficient in several key areas:

  • It was always reactive to pain. When my mother was obviously in pain they would administer more pain relief – but this was already reactive, after they noticed she had already experienced pain, sometimes quite severe.
  • The most unsettling and upsetting aspect of my mother’s death was what ended up to be extreme discomfort due to increasing accumulation of liquid in her lungs.
  • My mother ended up in a situation that she had expressly stated she wanted to avoid – she would have been horrified to see here state in the last time of her life.

Pain relief (sometimes reactive) and attentive care did not provide my mother with what she wanted.

The only way of being more caring would have been to have helped her out of her suffering sooner, provided it was clear that’s what she wanted ( from my conversations with her I think it would have been).

This leads of course to the much promoted idea of a person’s right to choose for themselves.