Dom Post on Police and euthanasia

The Dom Post editorial:

raids on elderly people associated with the voluntary movement are surprising and disturbing.

So are suggestions that police officers are staking out meetings, taking down number plates, and paying such people a visit to probe them on their intentions.

It’s true that the police are charged with upholding the law, and that the law bans assisted suicide, as well as the importation of drugs commonly used to achieve it. But the police also make decisions all the time about how to divide their time and resources.

They have only recently committed to attending all burglaries, for instance, even though they solve only a fraction of them. Community police stations have been phased back. In 2014/2015, there were nearly half a million fewer drink-drive tests than the year before.

In that straitened environment, it is especially odd that the police are running an operation, codenamed “Painter”, that targets elderly people concerned about the end of their lives.

Even if the police had endless resources, it would still be a troubling investigation. The thought of officers interrogating octogenarians seeking to make decisions about their own lives is an unwelcome one.

Fears of intimidation are rightly at the heart of objections to legalising euthanasia. But here the situation might be reversed – it is not hard to imagine elderly people feeling harassed by officers.

I agree. Setting up a fake checkpoint to gather information on who attended a meeting is inappropriate.

Campaigners such as the late Wellington lawyer Lecretia Seales have eloquently argued for a change, and, equally, the courts have rightly cautioned that any such reform must be made by Parliament.

Whatever comes of this debate, there is a right way to police the laws around euthanasia: with discretion and humanity. Not all crimes are the same. A terminally-ill person in great pain who wishes to shorten their life is wishing for something that is leagues away from most of what we classify as criminal: acts of theft and violence and the like.

Most people understand this. There is considerable public support for allowing euthanasia in certain circumstances, and even more sympathy for those who find themselves wanting it.

The police are at the sharp end of the law, and they will always face tricky cases. Some really ought to provoke an urgent response – those with any hint of pressure or intimidation, of course, but also those involving people who are actively distributing the tools used for euthanasia. Such people mock the law and can reasonably be penalised.

Extending such scrutiny, however, to every person who considers their options for the end of their life is an illiberal and heavy-handed act.

The police should pause and reconsider their approach.

I hope they do.

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