Guilty of importing drugs, not guilty of assisting suicide

In a topical trial in Wellington Susan Austen  has been found not guilty of assisting suicide, but guilty of illegally importing drugs that can be used for suicide – but can also be used for alleviating suffering.

ODT (NZH): Euthanasia campaigner acquitted of aiding suicide

Wellington woman Susan Austen has been found not guilty of assisting suicide.

A jury delivered the verdict at the High Court in Wellington on Friday afternoon where she had been standing trial over the past two weeks.

The 67-year-old has also been found not guilty on a representative charge of importing the Class C drug pentobarbitone. However, she has been found guilty on two other charges of importing the drug.

Austen, a Lower Hutt teacher, was accused of assisting Annemarie Treadwell to take her own life in 2016, along with two other counts of importing Class C controlled drug pentobarbital, on two occasions between 2012 and 2016.

Police launched an investigation into the case after Treadwell (77) was found dead in her bedroom at a retirement village in Kilbirnie in June 2016.

The euthanasia advocate died from an overdose of pentobarbitone.

Susan Austen’s lawyer Dr Donald Stevens, QC, argued during the trial that Austen did not intend that Treadwell should commit suicide, but assisted her to obtain the pentobarbital.

“She intended that Mrs Treadwell should have control over her end of life issue – having that [drug] could have had a profound palliative effect to reduce suffering.”

Clinical psychologist Professor Glynn Owens said merely possessing “end of life” drugs, such as pentobarbital, could actually ease suffering.

“Just having the drugs reduced anxiety and can focus someone on quality of life,” the court heard.

This case highlights issues around euthanasia as David Seymour’s ‘End of Life Choice Bill’ progresses through Parliament – it passed it’s First Reading on 13 December 2017 and is now at the public consultation select Committee stage.

Poll: most support euthanasia

Parliament is considering passing a euthanasia law that would allow terminally ill patients to choose to die, with the help and approval of their doctors. Do you support it?

  • Yes 71%
  • No 19.5%
  • Don’t know 9.5%

So three and a half times as many people support euthanasia as oppose it.

Newshub: Most New Zealanders support euthanasia

The vast majority of New Zealanders support euthanasia, according to the latest Newshub Reid Research poll.

A Bill to legalise assisted dying is currently before Parliament and it has 71 percent of the country’s support, with 19.5 percent against it and 9.5 percent unsure.

Written by ACT MP David Seymour, the End of Life Choices Bill seeks to give adults suffering a terminal illness or a grievous or incurable medical condition the option of medically assisted death.

The Bill passed its first reading in December through a conscience vote – 76 MPs voted in favour and 44 voted against.

The Bill argues some people are suffering unbearably at the end of their lives, and allows adults suffering from a terminal or irremediable illness to ask for a medically assisted death.

It’s currently being examined by Parliament’s Justice Select Committee, which is due to report back to the House in September.

Under the End of Life Choice Bill, a person wishing to end their own life must meet all of the following criteria:

  • be 18 or older
  • suffer from a terminal or grievous and irremediable illness
  • or be in an advanced state of irreversible decline
  • be in unbearable pain that can’t be helped by medication
  • be of sound mind to give consent

If those criteria are met, the applicant must be assessed by two doctors.

A dying person has no responsibility to extend their life in order to allow visitors to see them suffering and losing their dignity.

In the whole scheme of things, someone dying a few days or a few weeks earlier than they otherwise might is not a big deal.

People’s lives are commonly and frequently extended beyond when they would naturally end due to the intervention of drugs, technology and doctors. It is likely that most people who chose to end their lives slightly earlier would, in an earlier age (not that much earlier) have not lived as long as they did anyway.

It is common for people’s lives to end sooner than modern medicine would force them to live. ‘Do not resuscitate’ is one choice already available.

My father’s life was extended a number of times. He had two operations, and he had six or seven blood transfusions in the last few years of his life that kept him alive. And then his end was hastened with morphine.

My mother was allowed by doctors to starve herself to death. She could have been force fed or put on a drip, but fortunately she wasn’t. It was still awful to see her suffering in her last week.

A legal choice to end ones own life a bit sooner than might otherwise occur, with adequate checks and balances, seems like a no brainer to me, and it seems that most other people agree. We should have the right to choose a slightly sooner death if that’s what we want.

Good ways and bad ways to conduct referendums

Our binding referenda on constitutional issues like MMP have followed good process.

There were some valid questions about how the two referendums on the New Zealand flag were conducted, but the main problem with that process was political interference with attempts to discredit the process by some because they didn’t want flag change, and by others because while they supported flag change they opposed it being initiated by John Key – in other words, the process was trashed by petty politics.

The smacking referendum was a waste of time, it was non-binding so was toothless, and the question asked was vague and therefore futile.

We will have at least one referendum during or at the end of this term, could have two and may have more.

Graeme Edgeler has posted about good ways and bad ways to do referendums in How not to waste millions of taxpayer dollars

There is a good way to conduct government-initiated referendum, and there are bad ways to conduct them.

During the course of this Parliament, New Zealand will conduct one or perhaps two, referendums – one of the legalisation of cannabis use (a result of the Green Party’s confidence and supply agreement with the Labour Party), and perhaps another on euthanasia. Unfortunately, indications are not promising that the process for either these referendums will be good.

During September, October and November last year Australia conducted a referendum. We should learn from its mistake. Australia’s nationwide “plebiscite” on the legalisation of same sex marriage, in an exceedingly useful example of how not to conduct a public referendum.

How it went is no longer breaking news: a sizeable majority of the voting public indicated support, and then the Federal Parliament passed a law providing for it.

The marriage vote asked Australia voters to give a yes or no answer to the question:

“Should the law be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry?”

This is a perfectly reasonable question to ask to get a general sense of public feeling about a general issue, but is a stupid question to ask when wanting guidance on what a law should say.

So it’s better if a law change is defined then voted on.

How should you vote if you wanted politicians yet-to-consider a same-sex marriage bill to know that you would support changing the law to allow people of the same sex to marry, but would object to a law which might require churches to marry people in breach of church doctrine?

How should you vote if you wanted politicians to know that you thought people of the same sex should be able to marry, but would find offensive a system where a whole new law was created, setting up a separate same-sex marriage register, with separate same-sex marriage celebrants wholly separate from marriage celebrants?

You couldn’t. Holding a vote in advance of a bill being written makes that impossible.

This is a trap we should aim to avoid in both the cannabis referendum, and the potential referendum on euthanasia that New Zealand First is pushing for (and which David Seymour, the sponsor of the euthanasia bill, says he supports holding).

I hope the Government avoids these traps. They are fairly fundamental.

Will it be legal to sell cannabis, or just to possess and use it? Will people be able to grow their own, or will they have to buy it from specific government licenced dealers? Will you be able to smoke it outside in public places, like tobacco, or will that be prohibited, like the public consumption of alcohol often is? How will it be taxed? Will cannabis advertising and sponsorship be banned? Will councils have a role in regulating where it can be sold, or used? Will they be able to set up enforceable non-cannabis zones (like they can with alcohol), or only unenforced zones (like non-smoking areas)?

Will euthanasia be limited to the terminally ill? Will it need a judge to sign off a decision to offer aid in dying? What will a doctor who refuses to take part have to do, if anything? Will advance directives be able to be enforced, or will applications have to be made by people who are conscious?

Unfortunately, while the legislative process underway for the euthanasia legislation should work through the detail of the scheme, any referendum seems likely to be an afterthought.

I hope that Parliament (MPs) will have the fortitude to make a decision on medical cannabis without the need to then delay it by going to a referendum.

I think that in our system of representative democracy MPs can also decide on what is best for the minority that may want to consider euthanasia.

Fortunately, it’s not too late. The euthanasia law is still early in its early legislative process, and the cannabis referendum isn’t set up yet. Hopefully, we can avoid not only the mistakes Australia made, but also new ones of our own.

It may be a mistake to even have a referendum on euthanasia, but at least it won’t happen prior to legislation being debated and voted on in Parliament.

As Edgeler says, there are good ways and bad ways of having referenda – and there are also times when they aren’t appropriate, especially if used as a way for MPs to cop out of their responsibilities as representatives.

Extreme arguments against euthanasia

There must be quite a few people who prefer new Zealand didn’t legalise euthanasia on reasonable and logical grounds – I have some concerns, but think that giving people a choice over better ways of ending their lives outweighs the risks.

But some of the opposition has been fairly extreme.

SIMON O’CONNOR (National—Tāmaki):

Members of the House, this bill is about killing in two ways. The first is called euthanasia. It’s where the doctor takes an injection, usually something like phenobarbital, and injects it into you—only after they’ve sedated you, of course; couldn’t have the inconvenience of twitching. The other is physician-assisted suicide, where, again, they give you a massive dose of drugs. You take that yourself at your own choosing—and hope that the kids don’t find it in the medical cabinet at the time.

This bill combines both of them. That’s almost unheard of in any other jurisdiction around the world. This bill before us tonight is the worst example of euthanasia in the world.

Hon MAGGIE BARRY (National—North Shore):

This bill will enable more people to predate on the vulnerable, with far too few—negligible, even—protections and safeguards.

We’ve consulted widely with medical and legal experts and believe that the Seymour bill and version is so fatally flawed that it couldn’t even be fully rewritten to prevent vulnerable people from being predated on.

The answer is not to coerce and to kill, as this bill dictates; it is to continue to invest in world-class palliative care, and that’s what we have in this country.

We have very good palliative care, but it doesn’t prevent suffering. I have seen that up close when my mother died in a hospice.

But the aim of the bill is not “to coerce and to kill”.

Those are two National MPs.

From the other side of the political spectrum some similar but more extreme views from Martyn Bradbury: Why I do not welcome euthanasia in New Zealand

When I look at the horror our mental health system, prison system & welfare systems have become for the most vulnerable via chronic underfunding & indifferent staff – I fear how euthanasia will mutate in that cruel environment.

The way we treat the mentally ill, suicide victims, prisoners, the elderly and the poor with such contempt makes me believe that state sanctioned euthanasia will quickly become a means for pushing the poor to end their lives sooner.

It should surprise no one that it is ACT who is driving this movement. Euthanasia fits perfectly well within the far rights belief of individualism above all and the efficiency of the market to eradicate cost.

Simon O’Connor is more conservative and right wing than David Seymour and ACT.

The loop holes available in this legislation means it is only a matter of time before someone is pushing to expand their definition for cost cutting measures.

Vague fear-mongering long before we know what protections will be in the legislation..

It has happened before, in the 1990s the National Government were caught putting together health boards whose target was to deny health services to anyone who was deemed too costly to continue medical care for.

The National Party were actively and secretly looking for ways to disqualify the sick and vulnerable from state health care. If they were prepared to do it when euthanasia was illegal in the 1990s, imagine how quickly they will begin to pressure hospitals to start euthanasia as a cost cutting measure if it becomes legal?

National Party MPs, including leader Bill English, are amongst the strongest opponents of the bill now before Parliament, so this is a ridiculous and poorly informed political attack.

We know how poorly Corrections look after the welfare of prisoners. We know how badly CYFs looks after children in their care. We know how damaging Housing NZ, WINZ and the Ministry of Development treat beneficiaries.

So what would stop Government agencies applying the same disregard for the poor and sick if euthanasia is passed?

Decency. Common sense. Law.

Apart from Seymour it’s the left of Parliament that strongly supports the End of Life Choice Bill, plus the younger more centrist National MPs.

This is typical confused nonsense from Bradbury.

End of Life Choice bill introduced to Parliament

David Seymour is currently opening debate on his End of Life Choice Bill in Parliament. The first reading is likely to be voted on tonight. It will be a conscience vote for most parties, but NZ First have indicated they will block vote for the first reading if there is a commitment that the ultimate decision is by referendum.

Bill English is next to speak on the bill and opposes it.

I’m not posting a link to Simon O’Connors speech, he made some good points, but in repeating his view that the bill was about killing people I think is taking things too far.

Labour MP Lousia Wall:

Tracey Martin on behalf of New Zealand First:

She confirms that NZ First will vote for the first reading.

A Maori view from Nuk Korako:

He says the bill will fast forward death process for Maori and leave them in limbo unable to join ancestors. Voting against.

A Samoan perspective from William Sio:

He says says you have to deal with the reality of pain and death in order to understand the purpose of life.. Voting against – he says he already has sufficient information to make a decision now.

Julie Anne Genter (Green Minister):

Has concerns about about it being to broad and has insufficient protections for the disabled. She will vote for at this stage.

Maggie Barry is next – the first three National MPs all speaking strongly against the bill.

There are some Nationals MPs who support it. One is Chris Bishop, who is next up.

He says the current choice is cruel, and we have an opportunity to have a more compassionate society.

Then another National MP, Chris Penk.

Opposing the bill – a “choice to end all choices”.

And David Seymour closed the debate, I think ably and eloquently.

Predictably there will be a personal vote. By the look of the comparative numbers going to either side, followed by hand shaking in the Aye side, it looks like the bill will progress.

End of Life Choice Bill – First reading personal vote:

  • Ayes 76
  • Noes 44

 

 

 

Extreme claims after to ‘End of Life Choice Bill’ campaign launch

David Seymour hopes his Member’s Bill on euthanasia will come up in Parliament for it’s first vote soon and has launched a campaign, but there has already been some ridiculous comments fro  National MPs Maggie Marry and Bill English.

NZH: Heated words from both sides as euthanasia vote nears

The first vote in Parliament on a bill to legalise voluntary euthanasia is near but National MP Maggie Barry’s description of it as a “licence to kill’ and a disruption at Act leader David Seymour’s campaign launch in support of the bill showed how heated the issue will be.

That’s ridiculous from Barry. Bein an MP doesn’t give her a license to be stupid.

Seymour, whose bill was drawn from the ballot last term, launched the campaign at Parliament today alongside MPs from other parties, End of Life Choice’s Dr Jack Havill and Matt Vickers, the husband of the late Lecretia Seales.

Seales unsuccessfully took the issue to the High Court after she was diagnosed with a non-operable brain tumour and died in 2015 soon after the High Court ruled it could not grant her wish and said it was up to Parliament to change the law.

The bill could get its first reading on Wednesday night or early next year.

The first reading of the End of Life Choice Bill is expected to be early next year and MPs will have a conscience vote on it.

Vickers, on a visit from New York, said Seales would have been delighted to see the legislation arrive at Parliament and urged MPs to support it.

“Obviously when she took the court case her ultimate goal was to get legislative change and this is the mechanism by which that happens. So she’d be very happy to see that this was going ahead.”

It has support from MPs in every party in Parliament.

It is a conscience vote for most MPs and those in support at the launch were Green leader James Shaw, National’s Nikki Kaye and Chris Bishop, and Labour’s Iain Lees-Galloway.

Nobody from NZ First was at the event and NZ First leader Winston Peters later said his party would support it at first reading but after that support would be conditional on whether a referendum was held on the issue. He said the public should decide – not 120 MPs.

His own ranks appeared split – MP Shane Jones said “I do not support euthanasia” but later clarified that did not mean he would not vote for it to be debated at select committee.

I don’t think it is a suitable issue for a referendum. MPs and parliament need to take responsibility for something like this.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said she would support the bill because she believed people should have choice.

“I will always look for safeguards in place to make sure no one is ever manipulated or left vulnerable. But I also support people having their own choice in those circumstances.”

Note that it is generally younger MPs in support of people making their own choices about their own lives.

National MP Maggie Barry was also vehemently opposed, saying it was a “licence to kill.” She said there were no protections for the disabled, the elderly or the vulnerable. “It would make us the most liberal country in the world to die.”

Extreme rhetoric.

However, National leader Bill English – a Catholic – said he did not support euthanasia and believed Seymour’s bill was worse than others that had come up because it lacked the necessary safeguards.

If it passes the first vote then suitable safeguards should come out of the committee stage.

In the lead up to the election, Bill English said it was wrong to link suicide and euthanasia ().

Today he said: “It’s going to be a bit tricky for Mr Seymour to answer the question as to why some suicides are good and some are bad.”

That’s a petty and pathetic comment from English.

End of Life Choice president Maryan Street urged MPs to at least let the bill go to select committee for submissions.

“That way they can find out what it is really about, the safeguards provided in it and the checks and balances to be followed. In those respects, it is similar to legislation in other jurisdictions around the world.”

She said there was strong public support for the move and MPs should consider that when weighing up their decision.

“We want people to have the confidence they have the choice to die well, not badly, at the end of a terminal illness or when they can no longer bear their irremediable condition. We want them to have a choice.”

I want to have a choice. I don’t want the Government and some MPs dictating what I can or can’t do with my own life.

I understand  that some people are against it – but they don’t have to speed up their own deaths.  It is aimed at being voluntary.

Victoria Upper House backs assisted dying bill

ABC News:  Voluntary assisted dying bill passes Victoria’s Upper House, state set to make history

Historic voluntary euthanasia laws have passed Victoria’s Upper House after a 28-hour marathon sitting, leaving the state on the brink of becoming the first in the country to legalise assisted dying for the terminally ill.

In a dramatic end to days of debate, the Andrews Government’s voluntary assisted dying bill passed — with amendments — 22-18 votes in the 40-member Upper House.

It was a conscience vote for all MPs. Eleven government MPs backed the bill, as did four Liberals, five Greens, the Reason Party’s Fiona Patten and Vote 1 Local Jobs Party MP James Purcell.

Because amendments to the bill were agreed it must now return to the Lower House for ratification before becoming law.

The bill passed in the Lower House last month, with MPs voting 47 to 37 in favour of introducing voluntary euthanasia.

The legislation required amendments to pass the Upper House, including halving the timeframe for eligible patients to access the scheme from 12 months to live to six months to live.

There will be exemptions for sufferers of conditions such as motor neurone disease and multiple sclerosis, who will be able to access the scheme in their final 12 months.

Once passed it will give patients suffering intolerable pain the right to choose a doctor-assisted death from 2019.

Premier Daniel Andrews said the law would give terminally ill people dignity at the end of their lives.

Tracey Martin on referendums

In an interesting interview during the election campaign Tracey Martin gave an indication as to how she thought referenda should be used.

It gives a good insight into Martin’s and presumably NZ First’s preferences on the use of referendums.

Martin has been a member of the New Zealand First Party since 1993. She was on the party Board of Directors from 2008 until becoming an MP and the party’s deputy leader in 2011. She dropped to party #3 when Ron Mark challenged her and took over as deputy. She is expected to become a Cabinet Minister in the incoming government.

NZ First have promote referenda as a way of allowing the public to decide – from their Social Development policy:

Protect our social fabric and traditional family values from temporarily empowered politicians, by requiring so-called ‘conscience issues’ be put to comprehensive public debate and referenda.

The have proposed a number of referenda. Winston Peters promised a referendum on the Maori seats in the recent election campaign, although it looks like that has been lost in negotiations with Labour.

Family recently publicly reminded NZ First Promised Anti-Smacking Law Referendum:

(In 2014, NZ First said “NZ First policy is to repeal the anti-smacking law passed by the last parliament despite overwhelming public opposition. Accordingly, we will not enter any coalition or confidence and supply agreement with a party that wishes to ignore the public’s clearly stated view in a referendum on that issue.”)

That was for a previous election.

In a speech in March in Northland, leader Winston Peters said;

“We are going to repeal the anti-smacking law which doesn’t work and has in fact seen greater violence towards children.”

He then further clarified his position in an interview on Newstalk ZB saying that this matter should go to a referendum with New Zealand people who are “far more reliable and trustworthy on these matters, rather than a bunch of temporarily empowered parliamentarians.”

This position was backed up by senior MP Tracey Martin.

It would be surprising if Labour or Greens supported this. We may find out today if it’s another casualty of negotiations or not.

During the election campaign Martin explained how she saw referenda being used in an interview at the University of Otago, starting at about 20:15

Question: “One thing we’ve noticed is that New Zealand First seems to call for a lot of referendums on different issues, and you think that it should be the people deciding rather than a group of Parliamentarians. Why is that?”

Martin replied :

First of all there’s some things, they’re quite big social shifts, you know there’s some stuff that makes quite a big difference to society.

Lets take euthanasia as one that’s a biggie at the moment, and also legalising recreational marijuana. Split that off from medicinal marijuana, New Zealand First has already said we support medicinal marijuana through a prescription regime.

As an aside it’s not marijuana, it’s cannabis. It’s unusual to here it referred to as marijuana in New Zealand. The bill currently in Parliament is Misuse of Drugs (Medicinal Cannabis and Other Matters) Amendment.

But if you take those two issues, they’re issues that we think New Zealanders have the right to discuss, and my vote shouldn’t be worth any more than your vote…and so you need to have the same information I have, and then the country needs to vote.

“Do you see that I have a vote, and I vote in a Parliament, surely that is my reflection of those people making decisions on my behalf?”

So we have a representative democracy, and I would say that if every single bill that went through that House was a conscience vote then you might be right.

Euthanasia was not a topic that was campaigned on at the last election, so how would you have been able to vote on the political party, if you had strong beliefs on that particular topic, how would you have been able to vote for a particular party on that issue, which is a big issue for a nation.

It’s not the tweaking of a, it’s not Uber. It’s a large piece of legislation that is going to make quite a substantial change to country.

NZ First proposals to radically change our economic system is far more substantial – should any policies changing our economic system go to a referendum?

“If parties were campaigning on it this election and setting out their values on the issue which I think a lot of parties have been, it is coming into the discussion a bit more and I chose to volte on that issue, would it then be a rule for Parliament to make that decision rather than putting it back to the people again who have just voted?”

Well I think again it would be fine if it was a representative democracy.

That’s what we have.

…that’s just what New Zealand First believe, there are particular issues that should be laid in front of the New Zealand people, and the New Zealand people as a whole should be able to have a discussion about them out in the open in a transparent way, and then a vote on it.

“Is this a call for more direct democracy in New Zealand?”

Well basically yes, that’s what, I think that’s principle number 15 of New Zealand First, is about direct democracy.

If we haven’t campaigned on it, if we haven’t had a position on it, on a big item, then it’s something we think we need to go back to the constituency which is the public.

15. The People’s Policies

All policies not contained in the party manifesto, where no national emergency clearly exists, will first be referred to the electorate for a mandate.

This is an oddly NZ First-centric principle. Why should it only apply to things NZ First has no policy or campaign position on? Why shouldn’t things of public importance that are NZ First policies not go to referenda?

My also hope is that it might actually make feel connected too.

Here’s a very interesting and important point.

So if I put a bill in front, and I don’t think a referendum should just be a question. I think that’s a really easy way to manipulate direct democracy is to have a single question that is worded in a way that well how could you say no to it, or how could you say less to it.

I believe that you have the same intelligence that anybody sitting in that House has, and so you should see the piece of legislation, you should get the regulatory impact statement, you should get the full Parliamentary blurb that we get, and then after twelve months you should vote on it.

I think that in principle this is a good idea. I have suggested this sort of process for legalising or decriminalising cannabis – a bill should be passed through the normal parliamentary processes, and then go to the public for ratification or rejection via a referendum.

There are some potential down sides, especially if one referendum is held to put a number of issues to the public. There could be a lot of material to distribute and to digest.

Instead of handing out the full legislation plus regulatory statement and any other blurb perhaps a fair summary should be written and distributed. Those who have the time or inclination could obtain all the material online or request it all to be posted out.

I don’t think giving everyone a big pile of legislation will encourage participation, it is more likely to deter engagement.

But generally I think that this is a promising approach to contentious issues of public importance, write the legislation and if it passes through Parliament put it too the people for ratification or rejection.

This would encourage our Parliamentarians to write and pass legislation that made sense to the public and addressed public concerns.

I think this would work well for both euthanasia and for recreational cannabis use.

I don’t think it would be a good way to decide on the Maori seats. That would enable a large majority to make a decision that really just affects a relatively small minority.

I also don’t think it would suit the smacking issue.

The use of referendums could be a significant issue in itself this term.

Last term the flag referendums were a democratic disaster, with political game playing and deliberate disruption making a mess of the process. Somehow that has to be avoided in the future.

I’m encouraged by what Martin said in this interview, albeit with a concern about their principle of only applying referendums to things NZ First hasn’t written policy on or campaigned on. They aren’t the only party in Parliament or soon to be in Government.

Something Peters campaigned on was ‘a change in the way this country is run both economically and socially’.

That suggests major change to me. Should any major change to the way we run the country economically or socially be ratified by the public via referenda?

Peters has been quite vague about what changes he wants. Once he clarifies and suggests specific changes should we the people get to decide on whether it should happen or not?

Another National embarrassment

When things swing against political parties it can be hard to turn it around – especially when they keeping doing or saying silly things.

Steven Joyce dragged National down last week when they were already flagging behind Labour in the polls.

Today 38th ranked MP Simon O’Connor has National in the negative news column after a Facebook comment on Sunday night:

image-dynimg-full-q75

With opponents and journalists looking for something to kick of the week with this got a good airing.

Newshub:  No apology from National MP Simon O’Connor over suicide comments

Hundreds gathered outside Parliament on Sunday to urge the Government to do more on mental health. New Zealand has one of the highest suicide rates in the world, with more than 600 victims in the past year.

O’Connor’s tweet was in response to Jacinda Ardern’s involvment in that.

“It’s strange that Jacinda is so concerned about youth suicide but is happy to encourage the suicide of the elderly, disabled, and sick. Perhaps she just values one group more than the others? Just saying.”

Not surprisingly:

Hundreds expressed outrage on social media, including a number of MPs.

Ardern responded:

Ms Ardern told Newstalk ZB on Monday morning euthanasia and suicide were “completely different issues”.

“The 600 people in New Zealand who have taken their own lives will shock and appal all New Zealanders. The fact our mental health services aren’t doing enough for those people, that’s something we should be talking about this election.

“To draw then a comparison to the issue of the people having the ability to make choices about their own end of life if they’re facing terminal illness, is absolutely a completely different issue again.

“I’ve said openly that I believe people should be able to make their own choices in those circumstances. Mr O’Connor disagrees, he chaired a select committee on this issue and disagreed there too. That’s a conscience vote for us all.”

O’Connor said that no apology was necessary.

But rather than withdraw the comments Mr O’Connor is doubling-down, telling Newshub on Monday he had nothing to apologise for.

Mr O’Connor said he didn’t doubt Ms Ardern’s sincerity, but said she should “also be sad about those who are old or depressed or disabled who are also looking to suicide”, and called her views “inconsistent”.

“The intention of taking one’s life is called suicide. There are some who say that there are legitimate opportunities where it should be allowed, and we call that euthanasia or physician-assisted dying. So no, it’s just an inconsistent approach.”

“At one level saying youth suicide is bad, but saying other forms of suicide are acceptable, that’s an inconsistency. That’s always been the approach I’ve had,” he said.

“You cannot allow suicide for some and prevent it for others”.

Predictably Bill English was asked about it and all he could do was lamely slap O’Connor’s hand:

NZH: Bill English tells Simon O’Connor he’s wrong over euthanasia comments

National leader Bill English says he has texted his colleague Simon O’Connor to tell him it was wrong to link suicide and euthanasia.

Speaking at a press conference this afternoon, English said he didn’t agree with O’Connor.

“We don’t link euthanasia and suicide,” he said.

“In both cases, what’s important here is compassion for people who are vulnerable.

“For suicide, we’re trying to find better and wider solutions as a practical expression of that support for people who are at risk.”

But the damage had been done. This makes National look out of control and out of touch.

O’Connor completed training as a Catholic priest but didn’t seek ordination. He has previously expressed strong views against euthanasia.

But he isn’t totally devout in catholic practices.

Stuff in February last year: National MP Simon O’Connor to marry Minister Simon Bridges’ sister

National MP Simon O’Connor kicked off the new year proposing to Transport Minister Simon Bridges’ sister.

O’Connor’s fiance, Rachel Trimble, who still uses her ex-husband’s name, says politics really runs in the family and she’s joked to O’Connor that he should take her maiden name for fun.

“It’s quite confusing, I’ve had people think that I’m dating Simon Bridges, and I have to explain that he’s my brother,” Trimble said.

“I’m quite surprised he even likes me, considering I have five children…he’s a really kind and caring guy,” she said.

The kids are “great” and “fundamentally they still have a Dad, and it’s not me,” O’Connor said.

O’Connor admits when he was studying to be a priest in the seminary a decade ago he didn’t expect he’d end up marrying an older woman with five children.

Between 1995 and the end of 2004 O’Connor was studying for the priesthood with the Society of Mary.

He completed his studies but when it came to being ordained he decided it wasn’t for him.

“I’m still a man who has beliefs but it’s not a big part of who I am.”

“I don’t regret a day of being in the seminary but you can’t be a politico and a cleric.”

Trimble and O’Connor married in December last year. Unless rules have changed they would not have been able to get married in a Catholic Church.

This latest controversy is a relatively minor embarrassment for National but it could be another nail in their campaign coffin.

Euthanasia bill does not infringe human rights

David Seymour’s End of Life Choice Bill has been passed by the Attorney General, who is required to check bills against the Bill of Rights Act.

RNZ:  Euthanasia bill gets legal tick from Attorney-General

A bill proposing to legalise euthanasia has been given a legal tick by the Attorney-General, who said it would not infringe basic human rights if enacted.

Proposed laws are tested using routine assessments by the Attorney-General Chris Finlayson, who weighs legal validity under overarching legislation such as the Bill of Rights Act.

In a report, Mr Finlayson said the bill was consistent with rights regarding freedom of conscience and freedom of expression.

His report related to the legal framework, not any moral or philosophical questions.

Mr Seymour’s bill provides for a legal landscape in which people with a terminal illness or a ”grievous or irremediable” medical condition [have] the option of requesting assisted dying”.

“It allows people who so choose, and are eligible under this bill, to end their lives in peace and dignity, surrounded by loved ones.”

Seymour is pleased his bill passed this test.

“Critics of my bill, short of substantive arguments, have called it ‘poorly drafted’.

“[The] report from the Attorney-General debunks those claims.

“Opponents will now need to explain why they would not allow dying people, in extreme suffering, to have a choice about how and when they die – rather than hiding behind those straw men.

“The report says that the eligibility criteria are narrow enough, and the safeguards strict enough, that the bill will not cause wrongful deaths, and that assisted dying will be available only to the group the bill intends – incurably or terminally ill, and in unbearable suffering.”

Parliament will rise next week and ity looks unlikely the Members’ Bill will get it’s first reading before the election.