Merle Nowland, Nelson Parish
Several Western countries have changed their laws to legalise assisted suicide and euthanasia in varying circumstances. Four speakers at a forum in May, organised by Nelson’s Parish of the Holy Family, were united in the view that for New Zealand to go down such a path would be dangerous and unnecessary.
Chaired by Nelson Anglican priest, Rev Dr Graham O’Brien, the panellists were Dr John Kleinsman, Dr Lucia Mitchell, Victoria Casey and Matthew Jansen. They spoke to some 40 parishioners, other local-church members and participants from Golden Bay and Marlborough.
Dr Kleinsman, director of the NZ Catholic Bishops Nathaniel Centre for bioethics, said, ‘It’s not where we start with respect to legislation around assisted suicide and or euthanasia but where it will take us and where we will end up.’
The panel said there had never been a public groundswell for law change in New Zealand, and polls recently showed support for suicide and euthanasia has dropped.
‘Efforts to get the laws changed both in New Zealand and Australia have failed. But further challenges can be expected from those claiming people with terminal conditions and unbearable pain should have the choice to end their lives. So the hard work of putting the case against such challenges must continue, said Dr Kleinsman.
Dr Mitchell, a hospice medical officer, said we need to live well and to die well and New Zealand’s high standard of palliative care allows this. She called for a united approach between family and friends so the dying person feels loved and cared for.
Wellington barrister, Victoria Casey, said legalising options for suffering individuals would promote the interests of the strong at the expense of the weak. She said ‘end-of-life’ laws indicate some lives are worth living and others not, which can put pressure on the seriously ill, disabled and elderly.
Oregon government data about patients who die under the ‘Death With Dignity Act’ was cited with psycho-social concerns as the most common reasons including the loss of autonomy and dignity, and being a burden on family and caregivers.
Material from Belgium and the Netherlands showed the range of people able to use euthanasia and assisted suicide has grown with numerous cases not reported to authorities nor consent given.
Matthew Jansen, secretary for Care Alliance, encouraged people to seek open and respectful public discussion about euthanasia, and careful listening to arguments.
Care Alliance – Te Manaaki Haumi – is a national group with international connections that brings together organisations and individuals who want to nurture better conversations about dying in Aotearoa New Zealand. Members are from many different backgrounds but all share an understanding that a compassionate and ethical response to suffering does not include euthanasia and assisted suicide. Affiliated organisations include New Zealand Health Professionals Alliance, Palliative Care Nurses New Zealand, Hospice New Zealand, Christian Medical Fellowship ANZSPM Aotearoa ‒ The Australian & New Zealand Society of Palliative Medicine, The Nathaniel Centre, The Salvation Army in New Zealand, Lutherans for Life, Not Dead Yet Aotearoa (advocacy group for people with disabilities), Family First New Zealand, Euthanasia-Free NZ.