Police accused of illegal moral crusade

RNZ have more on the using of an alcohol breath-testing check point to identify elderly people who had attended a euthanasia meeting.

Yesterday police admitted they used a breath-testing checkpoint to identify and trace people who had been at an Exit International meeting in Lower Hutt earlier this month.

Shortly afterwards they announced they had reported themselves to the Independent Police Conduct Authority.

The acting Wellington District Commander, Paul Basham, said police carried out the operation “in good faith”, but were also aware of public concern about the legal basis for the checkpoint.

But Human rights lawyer Michael Bott said…

…officers misused used their power under the Land Transport Act, which allowed them to stop people, ask for licences and carry out breath tests for road safety.

“What you’ve got is New Zealand police undertaking what appears to be some kind of moral crusade on spurious grounds to such a degree that they’re prepared to use ‘stop and questioning’ powers under the Land Transport Act for ulterior motives, which seems completely improper,” he said.

In their defence, police said they had a responsibility to investigate any situation where they had reasonable grounds to “suspect that people are being assisted in the commission of suicide”.

So why didn’t the police go to the meeting to investigate?

But Mr Bott said police had no right to intervene in the way they did.

“The mere fact that you attend a meeting with a group who believe in the right to commit suicide in certain circumstances – if you’re unwell or terminally ill – doesn’t mean you actually endorse those aims, or that in fact you’re contemplating assisting someone with bringing about their own demise.

“So you really haven’t got good cause to do that.”

Otago University law professor Mark Henaghan…

…agreed the officers had acted unlawfully.

“Under the Bill of Rights Act, there is a provision that people should not be unlawfully detained. They [the elderly people] weren’t detained in the sense of being put in a cell but they were detained, and they were stopped and questioned, and were asked to hand over their licence,” he said.

“The police have no more power than I have to stop someone and say ‘I want to see your licence’, unless they’re using (their power) for the purpose it was designed for, which is the blood alcohol purpose.

“They’re really not using power that they have, so they’re effectively detaining people. If you haven’t got the power to do it then it’s illegal detention.”

Wilhelmina Irving missed the checkpoint but was visited from a plain clothes officer anyway.

She was one of a group of elderly women visited by the officers who questioned them about their connection to the pro-euthanasia activists.

She said the ordeal had made her lose faith in the police.

“You don’t think like that of the police, you think of them as trying to help people, not making things difficult for elderly people really.”

How was she identified?

I hope this is an ill-advised one-off and doesn’t set a precedent for how the police investigate groups of people.

Police checkpoint targeting meeting attendees

Stuff reports that Police admit using checkpoint to target euthanasia meeting attendees

Police have admitted they used a breath-testing checkpoint to target people who had attended an Exit International euthanasia meeting.

The move has been criticised as an “unlawful checkpoint to interrogate pensioners” by one lawyer, while another said it was probably a breach of police powers. 

A complaint has already been laid with the Independent Police Conduct Authority about the officers’ actions in Lower Hutt earlier this month, and it is understood at least one other will be laid in coming days.

If unlawful this is bad, but even if it isn’t unlawful this is an awful action targeting people who legally attended a meeting.

It is understood police were originally investigating on behalf of a coroner looking into a death, suspected to be self-inflicted.

But when police decided to turn the investigation into a criminal operation, they asked a coroner if they could put the coronial investigation on hold.

Questions put to police late last week and over Labour Weekend went unanswered. But on Wednesday, Inspector Chris Bensemann supplied a written statement confirming the checkpoint was to “identify people attending an Exit International meeting in Lower Hutt”.

He said police had a duty of care and a “responsibility to the community to investigate any situation where we have reasonable grounds to suspect that persons are being assisted in the commission of suicide”.

“Police are responsible for enforcing New Zealand’s laws, and currently suicide or encouraging/helping someone to commit suicide is illegal in New Zealand.”

I don’t think committing suicide is illegal.

Regardless, using alcohol checkpoints for other purposes, effectively detaining and questioning people just because of a meeting they had attended, is quite disturbing.

He confirmed the operation was conducted via a breath-testing checkpoint near the location of the meeting.

“Information gathered through the checkpoint has enabled police to provide support and information to those people who we had reason to believe may be contemplating suicide.”

That’s way outside the allowable uses for checkpoints.


Green Party: assisted dying policy

The Green Party has released their ‘Medically-Assisted Dying policy’, aka their proposals on euthanasia.

They gave a brief description via @NZGreens:

We are releasing our Medically-Assisted Dying policy. Stories like those of Lecretia Seales, who stepped into the public eye to ask the courts to give her the right to choose, have recently brought this issue to the fore.

Adults with a terminal illness should have the right to choose a medically assisted death in a supported and open way.

The Green Party does not support extending assisted dying to people who aren’t terminally ill because we can’t be confident that this won’t further marginalise the lives of people with disabilities.

Parliament is currently running a committee inquiry into euthanasia and recently heard public submission. However this far from guarantees Parliament will debate legislation on euthanasia.

ACT MP David Seymour has an assisted dying bill in the Members’ ballot but it wasn’t the 1 out of 79 bills drawn yesterday. It will always be a long shot.

The Green Party policy in full:

Medically-Assisted Dying policy

The Green Party supports the current legal right of an individual to refuse medical treatment (under the Bill of Rights Act 1990) and the right of doctors to refuse to perform futile medical procedures. Furthermore, we believe that an individual aged 18 years or older who has been diagnosed with a terminal illness should have the right to choose to end their life in a supported and open way.

1. The Green Party will support a law change that allows an individual access to medically-assisted dying, provided that, as a minimum, the following safeguards are included:

a) An assessment of the individual by their treating doctor, and a review of this assessment by an independent registered medical practitioner, to determine that the patient

i. Is terminally ill; and
ii. Is experiencing enduring physical or psychological suffering that is intolerable to them and that cannot be relieved under conditions that they consider acceptable; and
iii. Has made durable and persistent requests for assistance in dying.

b) A further assessment by a suitably qualified and registered health practitioner to confirm that the individual:

i) has decision-making capability; and
ii) is making an informed decision free from undue influence;

c) Treating doctors and medical practitioners who elect not to participate in this process must refer the individual to a practitioner who is willing to participate;

d) Ongoing support from appropriately qualified professionals is provided in all cases;

e) A reflective period is always provided before medically-assisted dying occurs; unless two registered medical practitioners agree the individual’s suffering is so great as to render such a period inhumane;

f) For individuals who are declined medically-assisted dying, an appeal process to enable a reassessment of their eligibility;

g) The medically-assisted dying administered under medical supervision or directly by a registered medical practitioner;

h) The mandatory reporting of all consequent deaths to the coroner, as an independent safeguard and to allow monitoring of the assisted dying process.

In addition to these safeguards, the Green Party will:

2. Require oversight of the medically-assisted dying legislation by an appropriate statutory body to ensure compliance with legal requirements.

3. Ensure that prior to the medically-assisted dying legislation coming into force, professional guidelines, training and support are made available to medical practitioners on an ongoing basis.

4. Require annual reviews of the performance of the medically-assisted dying legislation with the findings made available to the public.

5. Not support the extension of medically-assisted dying to individuals who are not terminally ill until New Zealand has in place policies and practices that ensure full social inclusion, including equitable access to health services, for disabled people (see our Disability Policy).

Parliament impeding social reform

An advantage of MMP and it’s moderating effect on policies can turn into a disadvantage when it comes to social reforms that have a lot of popular public support. There are several current reform issues that our Members of Parliament (our representatives) are very reluctant to deal with.

Barry Soper points out that Parliament the problem stopping social reform.

The problem with Parliament and social reform is that is that it’s wrested in the hands of too few people. And there’s a lot of reform itching to get out of the political starting blocks.

Cannabis law reform’s one area that’s unlikely to see the light of day with the current crop.

Labour’s Andrew Little appeared recently to warm to the idea in an interview with student radio but then appeared to back track when it made it on to the mainstream media platform indicating it wasn’t a priority.

There’s no way it’s going to be a starter with John Key who’s vehemently opposed and his associate health spokesman Peter Dunne’s not disposed either.

That’s perhaps unfair to Dunne who seems intent on pushing things as far as he can within the current laws (especially with medicinal cannabis) that National seem to have no intention of allowing and relaxation.

Parliament is at least listening on euthanasia, but whether this will lead to taking a serious look at reform is yet to be seen.

In the meantime people, like the desperately ill former trade union leader Helen Kelly, puffs away on black market weed while the cops rightly turn a blind eye.

And while they’re puffing their way to a less painful death, the politicians are at the moment hearing submissions on whether the desperately ill should be allowed to end it all through assisted suicide.

The death last year of Wellington lawyer Lecretia Seales who was suffering from brain cancer, just after a High Court denied her plea for an assisted death because it was a matter for Parliament to decide, wasn’t in vain.

An inquiry into euthanasia’s underway but don’t hold your breath that it’ll lead to change, again because the power wrests in the hands of too few.

Even though John Key supported the last Parliamentary ballot on the issue 13 years ago, which was lost by just two votes, he’s not willing to promote a Government bill on the topic to allow MPs to exercise their consciences.

Labour’s on the same side with Little instructing one of his MP’s voluntary euthanasia bill to be dropped musing it was about “choosing the controversies that are best for us at this point in time.”

So the two major parties are not willing to step up on considering social reform that is very important to many people.

Now it would seem the only hope for those who want the right to die with dignity, at a time of their own choosing, is ACT’s David Seymour’s bill which is sitting gathering dust, waiting to be drawn from a ballot, which of course may never happen.

The terminally ill would argue it’s not a question of when they die, it’s how they die. But at the moment those who have the power to possibly make it easier for them have other more important issues, like the plain packaging of cigarettes, to deal with.

And whether airports have to advertise lost property in newspapers or not. That was a National MP’s bill drawn from the Members’ ballot while Seymour’s somewhat more important Dying With Dignity bill gets nowhere.

Social reform can be very contentious but there needs to be a better way of a dealing with important social issues without them being swept under the parliamentary carpet by gutless, self interested politicians.

It doesn’t mean social reforms will happen, that should depend on proper inquiry and majority public approval, but they should at least be given a decent chance.

‘Govt cowardly on euthanasia’

Not just the Government – some opposition MPs and parties could be seen as unwilling to address an important issue for many people too.

A lead item on Stuff:

‘Govt cowardly on euthanasia’

John Key supports euthanasia but he won’t make it a Government bill – is it time for a rethink?

The actual article headline is less provocative:

Lecretia Seales lives on in a health inquiry into euthanasia that kicks off this week

A petition was handed to MPs at Parliament, which sparked an inquiry into voluntary euthanasia.

Wellington was home for Matt Vickers for a long time – it’s also where his love and memories of his late wife Lecretia Seales live on.

Seales died from in June last year after a long battle with cancer that ran hand-in-hand with a courageous fight to win the right to choose to end her own life. Hours before she took her last breath she learned her legal battle had failed.

On Wednesday Vickers will be the first of 1800 people to speak to a parliamentary inquiry into euthanasia, instigated by a petition in the name of former Labour MP Maryan Street and the Voluntary Euthanasia Society.

The petition, which garnered 8795 signatures and cross-party support, came in the wake of Seales death.

It demanded the committee examine public opinion on the introduction of legislation “which would permit medically-assisted dying in the event of a terminal illness or an irreversible condition which makes life unbearable”.

More than 21,000 submissions later – the most ever received by any select committee – Vickers will pull up a seat at 8am in front of a panel of MPs to explain Lecretia’s story.

“Lecretia was very strong in wanting a choice, that wasn’t a weakness of character. She wanted to be able to exercise her strength by having a choice,” he said.

The submission process is an opportunity for the country to “honestly and unashamedly talk about the end of our lives without fear”.

The problem is that generally MPs and parties don’t want to be associated with discussing euthanasia despite strong public support for change.

And the chair of the Parliamentary committee has caused some concern.

While in Wellington Vickers will also launch his book, Lecretia’s Choice, and already one member of the select committee intends to read it – chair and National MP Simon O’Connor.

The Tamaki MP is Catholic and spent almost a decade studying for the priesthood with the Society of Mary before deciding he couldn’t be a politico and a cleric.

Vickers, much like Street and Seymour, is concerned about O’Connor chairing the committee – all three question how someone publicly opposed to euthanasia can chair an inquiry into it.

But some MPs from different parties are promoting the discussion.

National MP Chris Bishop stood alongside Seymour, Labour MP Iain Lees-Galloway and Green MP Kevin Hague when Parliament received Street’s petition in June.

Bishop supports the inquiry and Seymour’s bill and says while O’Connor chairs the committee, “he’s not doing the whole inquiry – he’s only one person”.

Seymour says O’Connor should apologise before oral submissions kick off on Wednesday for “soliciting submissions from a certain point of view which happens to coincide with his own beliefs”.

“If you look at the way Simon’s behaved you’ve got to be pretty concerned … it’s really quite shameful given you get paid an extra $20,000 to be a chair.”

“He’s got every incentive, he’s an ambitious guy like most people in Parliament, and if he wants to be a minister one day then he has to actually play a straight bat and be seen to play a straight bat.”

Seymour versus National:

Even Prime Minister John Key supports euthanasia and Seymour’s bill and said the select committee inquiry is proof “it’s quite possible without a bill being in Parliament to have a good and open discussion about the issue”.

The Government has no intention of picking up Seymour’s bill but Key says “at some point it’s bound to be drawn”.

According to Seymour, every Government is reluctant to pick up controversial issues and this National government isn’t alone – homosexual law reform, abortion law and marriage equality also came out of members’ bills.

“All governments have been cowardly on controversial issues, not just this one.”

And some opposition parties. ‘Not a priority’ is a cop out.

He also blames several senior Ministers in Cabinet being strongly opposed to euthanasia for blocking it.

He wants a public conversation that does some myth-busting.

I hope the committee listens well and does this inquiry justice.

I strongly believe that with adequate legal protections freedom of choice for individuals who are dying should be paramount – and certainly choices about our own lives should not be illegal.


More on euthanasia

Links to further information on euthanasia (thanks PK):

RNZ (audio):

Andrew Denton is probably best known here as an Australian television presenter and comedian, but his new role is a much more serious one. He’s become a leading campaigner for physician-assisted dying, better known as voluntary euthanasia. He shares his own story of how watching his own father die led him to his views

Andrew Denton – Euthanasia

TVNZ Q+A (video):

Andrew Denton is in NZ to speak to the Voluntary Euthanasia Society. Talking about his personal campaign …

Euthanasia – Your Choice


Euthanasia another ‘not a priority’ policy for Labour

Andrew Little has signalled no interest from Labour in doing much to promote euthanasia as a policy.

Stuff: Legalising euthanasia not a priority for Labour, says Andrew Little

The Labour Party is supporting an inquiry into the euthanasia debate, but it’s not a priority.

A record-breaking public response to a petition to legalise assisted dying has renewed calls for politicians to take action. 

The Voluntary Euthanasia Society (VES) said it has received 22,000 submissions on a the petition that sought an inquiry into public opinion and a law change. The final tally of submissions is yet to be confirmed by the Health Select Committee.

Labour leader Andrew Little said other issues such as homelessness, employment and healthcare that would be put before a euthanasia campaign.

“It would be nice to be able to do everything from Opposition but we can’t, we have to focus on those things that are about building a better nation,” he said.

“That’s gonna be our priority, I make no apology for that.”

Euthanasia is a tricky issue when it comes to seeking popularity and votes. Like cannabis law reform parties tend to put lip service to it but won’t go out of their way to initiate or promote discussion or change.

Last term Labour had a Members’ bill on euthanasia but I think it was Little that took it off the agenda for Labour.

David Seymour appears to be the only MP wiling to actively seek discussion and change with right to die with dignity and euthanasia.

But this shows one Labour MP and one National MP at least showing an interest.

Went along to public meeting organised by VES this arvo to hear Andrew Denton speak.



‘Care Alliance’ careless

The so-called ‘Care Alliance’ has issued a very careless press release attacking the husband of Lecretia Seals.

Matt Vickers has been attacked for considering an invitation to speak at the Euthanasia 2016 conference in Amsterdam in May.

NZ Herald: Widower of Lecretia Seales attacked for attendance at euthanasia conference

His possible attendance has been slammed by the Care Alliance, which issued a press release asking if he would now lobby for suicide pills for all over 70s.

Matthew Jansen, secretary of the group, which formed in 2012 and includes Family First NZ, Hospice New Zealand and the Salvation Army, said Mr Vickers’ attendance showed “what a slippery slope the so-called right to die really is”.

“The Dutch organisers of the conference are campaigning for everybody over the age of 70 to have access to a suicide pill as a matter of right. Will Mr Vickers be speaking for or against such a law change here?”

This is a very careless attack by Jansen, and Hospice New Zealand, Family First and the Salvation Army should be very concerned to be seen as associated with him.

Mr Jansen said he was not attacking Mr Vickers personally, but publicising the fact he had been invited to the conference, and the views of conference organisers and some attendees.

“He has allowed his name to be associated with that [Euthanasia 2016]. I am pointing out the facts.

“[Assisted dying advocates] start with the thin end of the wedge, but I think people are entitled to understand what the thick end of the wedge looks like.”

Jansen is not pointing out facts, he is making fairly despicable connections between Vickers and more extreme measures that Vickers has not had any link to.

Mr Vickers, who is writing a book about his wife’s dying quest, told the Herald that the criticism was unfortunate.

He was still deciding whether to attend the conference, but should he do so it would be “simply fallacious” to assume his attendance was an automatic endorsement of the views of organisers or attendees.

“I think in New Zealand we probably want more moderate laws, laws that are more similar to some of those in the US states, rather than some of the laws in the Netherlands and so on.

“I am interested in getting to the bottom of what is happening in the Benelux countries [Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg] — understanding more about some of the assertions from people like the Care Alliance about just how unsafe they think that these laws would be.

“It is much an understanding thing, if I do decide to go, as it is talking about Lecretia’s story.”

Mr Vickers said recent attacks from the Care Alliance and its allies were “deeply undignified, insulting to Lecretia’s memory, and unfortunately lowering the quality of the public debate”.

“That they’re resorting to such tactics indicates they must be losing faith in the quality of their arguments and their ability to debate fairly.”

It is very undignified and insulting.

Hospice New Zealand, Family First and the Salvation Army should disassociate themselves from Jansen’s attack, and possibly from Jansen altogether if he is this careless with his press releases.

We should debate euthanasia in New Zealand but Jansen isn’t doing any credit to his arguement, nor to the so called ‘Care Alliance’.

Herald New Zealander of the year

NZ Herald has named Lecretia Seales as their New Zealander of the year.

Courageous woman who sparked euthanasia debate New Zealander of the Year

She was brave and inspiring, sharing something as personal and private as her death for the advancement of a human right.

Instead of spending her last months quietly with family and friends, she spent them in a legal battle – fighting for the right to choose how she died.

For that courageous effort, the late Wellington lawyer Lecretia Seales is the Herald‘s New Zealander of the Year.

She died, aged 42, on June 5 from brain cancer. Her death came just days after learning she had been unsuccessful in her High Court bid for the legal right for a doctor to help her end her life. She wanted the right to not die a painful death.

As the result of the debate she prompted, Parliament began the first public inquiry into the issue of medically assisted dying.

It’s a good choice.

The finalists were:

  • Richie McCaw and Steve Hansen
  •  broadcaster Rachel Smalley
  • spy boss Rebecca Kitteridge
  • road safety campaigner Sean Roberts
  • cot death specialist Ed Mitchell
  • Teina Pora advocate Tim McKinnel
  • activist architect Julie Stout;
  • Lisa King and Michael Meredith for feeding hungry kids;
  • Tania Billingsley, who stood up to sexual violence.

Other awards:

  • Sporting Achievement of the Year – All Blacks
  • Business Leader of the Year – IAG chief executive Jacki Johnson


Why Seymour turned down a ministerial position

Duncan Garner asked David Seymour yesterday why he turned down a ministerial position offered by John Key.

Garner: When offered a promotion today the Prime Minister offered him a Cabinet role if you like, a Ministerial role anyway, Minister of regulatory Reform and Associate Minister of Education that was probably outside Cabinet. He declined the offer. Why was that? He joins me now.

There’s not many MPs in life that turn down Ministerial roles. Why have you done it?

Seymour: A couple of reasons. One is that if I was to become a minister I could not have a Private Member’s bill in the ballot, and I ‘ve got a Private Member’s Bill in there to legalise euthanasia.

Now amazingly enough nobody else in Parliament is either prepared to put a bill in, or their leaders won’t let them put a bill in, and I think it’s a critical issue for New Zealand, that we shouldn’t leave people, it’s a very small minority of people to be sure, who have basically reached the end of their life and their only choice is a violent amateur suicide, or to suffer on intolerably. And I think we’ve got to move on that.

Garner: So you to me look quite principled on this.

Very principled, especially considering the chances of having his bill drawn from the ballot are low.

Garner: It’s something you believe in, it’s something you believe should be pushed through Parliament, and you’ve put that ahead of some sort of personal privilege, which was being a minister.

Seymour: Well look I just say who knows how political careers end, most of them peoeple say end in failure. If I can get this bill through and convince my Parliamentary colleagues to support it then i will have done something that I think makes New Zealand a better place, and that two thirds of New Zealanders in the most sceptical polls say Parliament should be doing something about it. T

Which should be the aim of all MPs, which I’m sure just about always is but others are more likely to put personal ambitions ahead of a commitment to try and make a difference on something like euthanasia.

The alternative is if I became a Minister then yep, get a limo, yep, get a bit more cash, ah yep everybody calls you Honourable apparently, but I wouldn’t be able to do that.

Now staying as an under-secretary I’ve still got my hands on the tools for regulatory reform and partnership or charter schools. In a more limited way sure, ah but look I gotta rebuild the ACT Party and be a good MP in Epsom, it’s my first year, ah, can’t do everything.

Seymour has done an extraordinary amount for a rookie in his first year in Parliament establishing himself in an electorate plus resurrecting a severely ailing ACT Party in Parliament.

Not only does he seem to have managed that adeptly, he has also made some notable gains albeit in minor ways as prepared and able to negotiate legislative changes like the World Cup bar opening.

Some have already named seymour as MP of the year. This principled stand, putting his commitment to an issue that’s important to him and others first, and putting the good of his electorate and party first, before short term personal ambition (how many MPs have been appointed Minister 14 months into their first term?)  – he must surely rate at the top of the Parliamentary pile this year.

Transcribed from RadioLive audio: The real reason David Seymour declined a ministerial position from Key