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.

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‘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

 

Health select committee agrees to euthanasia inquiry

In response to a petition presented to Parliament by the Voluntary Euthanasia  the Health Select Committee has agreed to investigate matters raised by the petition.

NZ Herald reports: Parliament to hold euthanasia inquiry following Lecretia Seales’ death

An inquiry into voluntary euthanasia is to be carried out by Parliament – a process supporters hope will be an important step towards a law change.

Today’s announcement comes after a petition from the Voluntary Euthanasia Society was presented to Parliament by supporters including Matt Vickers, the husband of the late Lecretia Seales.

The petition, signed by former Labour MP Maryan Street and 8,974 others, asked that Parliament’s health and select committee “investigate fully public attitudes towards 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”.

It will set-up an inquiry to “fully investigate the matters raised by the petition”, health committee chair Simon O’Connor said.

The terms of reference will be drafted over the next few weeks, which will form the outline of that investigation.

“This is an important subject and the committee needs to think carefully about the best way to examine it,” Mr O’Connor said.

“I would like to see a thorough investigation that covers as many aspects of this topic as possible in a responsible and robust manner.”

It’s impossible to know where this may lead, if anywhere, but i think it’s time Parliament properly and comprehensively looked at the pros and cons of voluntary euthanasia, the right to choose how we die etc.

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.

Binding referendum an awful option for euthanasia

Tracey Martin said on The Nation that she didn’t have a position of euthanasia and didn’t think Parliament should vote on it, and that it should go to a binding referendum.

I think euthanasia would be one of the worst things to be decided by a binding referendum.

This issue is complex and has very serious implications. It needs a very thorough investigation into all aspects of it and then MPs should do what they are elected to do, represent all of us responsibly.

It would be possible to get popular support for “euthanasia should be a personal choice in consultation with a person’s doctor” in a referendum, and it would be highly irresponsible of Parliament to allow something like that.

Referendums are fine for things like flags, but not for protecting a small vulnerable minority.

A binding referendum would be an awful option for euthanasia.

Martin is either severely misguided suggesting a public vote – or she is trying to avoid stating a position on euthanasia. Possinble both.

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