Geddis on the Seales euthanasia case

May 26th, 2015 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

Andrew Geddis and Kathryn Tucker have had an article published in the NZ Law Journal on the Seales case. They believe her case has a high chance of success. Some extracts:

Ms Seales’ application for a declaratory judgment makes much the same statutory scope argument that has been advanced in the United States. Her case turns upon the proper understanding of the Crimes Act 1961, s 179. It states that anyone who “incites, counsels, or procures any person to commit suicide”, or “aids or abets any person in the commission of suicide”, commits a criminal offence.

Whether those provisions cover the case of a doctor who supplies Ms Seales with aid in dying is the question. That is a matter of statutory interpretation. Key to that process is the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 (NZBORA), s 6: Wherever an enactment can be given a meaning that is consistent with the rights and freedoms contained in this Bill of Rights, that meaning shall be preferred to any other meaning.

To simplify, s 6 requires a two-step approach (R v Hansen [2007] NZSC 7; Rishworth “Human Rights” [2012] NZ L Rev 321 at 330-331). First, does an “ordinary” or “plain meaning” interpretation of s 179 that criminalises the conduct of a doctor who assists a competent, terminally ill patient to achieve a peaceful death via aid in dying unjustifiably limit any of the rights and freedoms contained in the NZBORA? If so, can the word “suicide” in s 179 be given an alternative meaning that is consistent with the NZBORA?

We need not spend too much time on the first point, as a recent unanimous decision of the Supreme Court of Canada, Carter v Canada (Attorney General) [2015] SCC 5, provides extremely strong persuasive authority that it does so. It found that:

The right to life is engaged where the law or state action imposes death or an increased risk of death on a person, either directly or indirectly. Here, the prohibition deprives some individuals of life, as it has the effect of forcing some individuals to take their own lives prematurely, for fear that they would be incapable of doing so when they reached the point where suffering was intolerable (at [57]).

This is a key point. The current ban on euthanasia actually leads to people killing themselves prematurely, as they have to do it while they can still do it unaided. This is not a theory – it is a fact. I know someone who did this. He may have lived another ten years, if he had the option of being able to have a physician assist his death at a time when his condition became intolerable.

In particular, drawing on the significant body of empirical data that has emerged from the Oregon “state laboratory”, the trial court found that when assisted dying is available there is no evidence of harm to patients or to vulnerable populations (Carter, at [25]).

Opponents will imagine up potential awful scenarios that could happen, such as the greedy child killing their parents off with a conniving doctor, to get their money early. But the reality is this has not happened in Oregon. No harm occurred to those vulnerable, instead those in suffering were given a way to have a peaceful end.

Although the Canadian Charter’s “supreme law” status ultimately was rejected in New Zealand, it still provides the model for our NZBORA. Unsurprisingly, therefore, the NZBORA s 8 guarantees each individual’s right to life in terms virtually identical to the Canadian Charter. Furthermore, as Ms Seales’ husband notes, the same issue of premature death arises here in New Zealand: “What Lecretia faces are the horns of a dilemma: kill herself now and rob herself, me and her family of precious moments together, or risk waiting until death takes her, which could be weeks or months of needless, potentially agonising suffering” (http://lecretia.org/onsuicide/).

And Lecretia should not be forced to make a choice between an early suicide or what could be months of agonising suffering.

Consequently, it seems almost certain that a New Zealand court, considering the Carter v Canada precedent, would find that a reading of s 179 that prevents Ms Seales access to aid in dying is inconsistent with the NZBORA

That is a strong statement.

This alternative meaning would distinguish between the sorts of intentional self-inflicted deaths we ordinarily think of as being “suicide” (the lovesick teen, the family breadwinner facing financial crisis, etc.) and the act of a competent, terminally ill person who is seeking (as in Ms Seales’ case) to choose a more peaceful death when brought to death’s door by the advance of disease and enduring unbearable suffering. Are these scenarios distinguishable from each other, and can that distinction be given effect under the specific wording of the Crimes Act?

I think that the two situations are very different. Not helping a depressed teenager kill themselves is very different to not helping someone who is facing an agonising death, from avoiding some suffering.

Choosing to suffer less before death arrives can be an entirely rational response to a horrific situation that cannot be remedied. No matter how fervently they may wish to live, their illness has robbed them of that option. The only question is how much suffering will be endured before death arrives. Suffering can be multifactorial, and indeed the experience in jurisdictions where aid in dying is openly available demonstrates this: those who choose aid in dying typically express that they do so because of the cumulative burden their illness imposes. These burdens may include: loss of ability to engage in activities which give life joy and meaning; progressive and inexorable loss of bodily function and integrity; increasing dependence on others for all personal care needs; pain that cannot be relieved; extreme fatigue; severe nausea and vomiting; acute shortness of breath and sensation of suffocation; open wounds with foul-smelling discharge. Choosing a less brutal death ought not be considered suicide.

I agree.

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Seales seeks the right to die

March 21st, 2015 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

A terminally ill woman is mounting a legal challenge seeking the right for a doctor to help her die without criminal prosecution.

Lecretia Seales, 41, is dying from brain cancer and believes it’s a “fundamental human right” to be able to choose to end her life with medical assistance, if she wants to, before her suffering becomes intolerable.

In a legal first in New Zealand, the senior legal and policy adviser at the Law Commission has filed a statement of claim in the High Court seeking a ruling to determine whether her GP could lawfully administer a lethal dose of drugs.

Assisting suicide is a crime punishable by up to 14 years in prison but Ms Seales’ case relies on the provisions in the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act which protect the rights to not be deprived of life or subjected to cruel treatment.

A fascinating and novel case. It is a pity she has to go to court to get the right to a humane death, but if she succeeds she may galvanise law reform.

Diagnosed in 2011 with an aggressive brain tumour, Ms Seales has suffered gradual paralysis, which has robbed her of the ability to move her hand, arm, leg and eyesight on the left side of her body.

She’s not afraid of death, but of losing her remaining physical and mental abilities.

One can only have the greatest sympathy for her, and her family.

Her challenge closely mirrors a recent Carter v Canada case where the Supreme Court of Canada overturned a criminal ban on medically assisted deaths and gave politicians 12 months to rework the legislation.

The case was originally brought on behalf of two women with degenerative diseases, Kay Carter and Gloria Taylor. The unanimous 9-0 decision by the judges found the criminal charge of assisting suicide – which like New Zealand had a maximum sentence of 14 years in prison – infringed on the rights protected in the Canadian equivalent of the Bill of Rights.

A key part of the judgment was the finding that the ban deprived some patients of the right to life.

“It has the effect of forcing some individuals to take their own lives prematurely, for fear that they would be incapable of doing so when they reached the point where suffering was intolerable,” wrote the court.

This is beyond doubt the case. Martin Hames was an example of this in NZ. Our current law forces people to kill themselves earlier.

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The compassionate society that forces a 100 year old to starve herself to death

March 11th, 2015 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

“When life is a misery, you give your patients something,” my 100-year-old mother, Aileen Breslin, told me in December, as she lay in her hospital bed, suffering intolerable physical and mental pain.

“Why can’t you do the same for me?” She was absolutely right. When a life is no longer worth living, I bring that life to a painless end. I’m legally permitted to do because I’m a veterinarian – and the life I am ending is that of anything other than a human.

But now, as of last week, if you live in Canada, as my mother did, and thanks to the Canadian Supreme Court’s resounding 9-0 judgment, people in her circumstances will be allowed to ask their physicians to help end their misery too. I can’t help wondering if we should have the same right elsewhere. …

Mum was telling me she had decided to die. This time, she was only just ahead of her time. Thanks to that Canadian Supreme Court ruling, people in her circumstances will now be able to do so, painlessly, of their own free will, simply by asking for and taking pills, without putting themselves or their families through a needlessly protracted and inevitably uncomfortable end of life.

But Mum did not have that luxury. Her only option was to refuse food.

I get angry when I read about people who go through such suffering because our laws do not allow them to have an assisted suicide, when they are not capable of ending their own lives.  When one is in agony, you should be able to choose to end your life.

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The right to die

March 4th, 2015 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

Radio NZ reports:

Lecretia Seales is dying of a brain tumour, and is lobbying the government to reform the laws on assisted dying.

The 41-year-old Wellington senior public lawyer was diagnosed with cancer in 2011 and is having palliative chemotherapy.

She believes it is a fundamental human right that she should be able to say goodbye to her husband and family at a time of her choosing and while she remains fully conscious.

If I had this right, I wouldn’t be going out tomorrow and exercising it, but it would be comforting to know I had that right.

The story also has audio from an extensive interview with Lecretia on Nine to Noon. If you are interested in this issue, I’d encourage you to listen to it.

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Labour dumps euthanasia bill

December 15th, 2014 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

A bill which would legalise voluntary euthanasia has been dropped by Labour MP Iain Lees-Galloway at the request of his leader Andrew Little.

Mr Lees-Galloway had been canvassing support for his End of Life Choice Bill before deciding whether to return it to the private members’ bill ballot.

But Mr Little confirmed yesterday that he had told Mr Lees-Galloway not to put it in the ballot because it was not an issue Labour should be focused on when it was rebuilding.

“It comes down to priorities at the moment,” Mr Little said. “We are very much focused on … jobs and economic security.

I think this is a real pity, as I suspect if it had remained in the ballot and been drawn, that it had the numbers to pass.

Mr Little said Labour was still a socially progressive party under his leadership.

“It’s not about avoiding controversy but it’s about choosing the controversies that are best for us at this point in time. That stuff on euthanasia, it isn’t the time for us to be talking about that.”

I would have thought just after an election is the best time to be considering issues such as this, rather than closer to the next election.

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Edwards on Labour and euthanasis

November 13th, 2014 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

Brian Edwards writes:

Iain Lees-Galloway has taken over responsibility for the ‘End of Life Choice Bill’  after its sponsor, Maryan Street, failed to get elected in September. Lees-Galloway is apparently gauging support before deciding whether to put the Bill back on the private members’ bill ballot. It was removed last year under pressure from the Labour leadership who, according to the Herald, “were concerned it could be an election-year distraction or that it could deter conservative voters”. The new Labour leader, whoever that is, could apparently have the deciding voice on the voluntary euthanasia question.

So what did the contenders for that position have to say?

Well, Nanaia Manuta was in favour of reintroducing the bill  because it would show “that Labour would stand up for those difficult conversations that need to be had”.

I thought that was a pretty principled position to take.

Yep.

David Parker, who voted against legalising voluntary euthanasia in 2003, didn’t want to comment till he’d talked to Lees-Galloway.

Non-committal and therefore less satisfactory perhaps.

Grant Robertson and Andrew Little both support voluntary euthanasia, but neither considered it a priority at the moment. The fairly clear subtext of their replies was that it was a vote-loser and that a party that had polled 25% in September couldn’t afford to be seen supporting unpopular policies.

I’d call that unprincipled.    

So are Grant and Andrew saying they would not have supported same sex marriage going to a vote if it was less popular?

There are precedents galore for this sort of thinking of course, for the abandonment of principle, of forward-thinking, enlightened or socially responsible policies and platforms because they’re unlikely to win or more likely to lose your party votes. Leadership gives way to “followship”.

It’s a depressing view not only of our politicians but also of us, the voters. Are we really so selfish, so venal, so incapable of persuasion that the towel has to be thrown in before the contestants are even in the ring? Have we no admiration for those who stand up for their principles against the seeming odds?

I say “seeming” odds, because the odds can never be totally accurately predicted. But, with the exception of Nanaia Mahuta, these prospective Labour Leaders are betting on the electorate not being motivated by anything other than unprincipled self-interest. That’s pretty bloody offensive really and were I a member of the Labour Party, which I’m not, I wouldn’t vote for anyone who thought so little of me.

Harsh words, but true.

Judy and I worked for Helen Clark from June 1996 to November 2008. She made mistakes of course but she was willing to espouse unpopular policies when she thought it was the right thing to do. In the process she took a lot of flak, but the sky didn’t fall in. She still got 3 terms. She wasn’t always loved, but she was greatly admired and respected.

With the exception of Nanaia Mahuta I’m not finding much to admire or respect in this lot. Their core philosophy appears to have everything to do with giving the punters what (they think) they want, and tossing out anything that doesn’t satisfy that principle.

There seems to be no excitement at all over who will win the leadership contest – unlike last time, when there was genuine excitement and interest.

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A heart breaking story

August 28th, 2014 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

A New Zealand great-grandmother suffering from dementia took her own life with her husband at her side just hours after publishing a moving letter explaining her decision.

Christchurch-born Gillian Bennett, 85, died near her home in Canada on August 18. Her husband Jonathan held her hand during her final moments, around midday.

Yesterday he spoke to the Herald about his wife of 60 years’ decision to end her life, why he supported her and why he wants people to read her four-page letter.

Some extracts from the letter:

I will take my life today around noon. It is time. Dementia is taking its toll and I have nearly lost myself. I have nearly lost me. Jonathan, the straightest and brightest of men, will be at my side as a loving witness.

There comes a time, in the progress of dementia, when one is no longer competent to guide one’s own affairs. I want out before the day when I can no longer assess my situation, or take action to bring my life to an end.

Every day I lose bits of myself, and it’s obvious that I am heading towards the state that all dementia patients eventually get to: not knowing who I am and requiring full-time care. I know as I write these words that within six months or nine months or twelve months, I, Gillian, will no longer be here.

I have had a husband beyond compare, and children and grandchildren who have outstripped me in most meaningful ways. Since I was seven I have had wonderful friends, whom I did and still do adore.

Today, now, I go cheerfully and so thankfully into that good night. Jonathan, the courageous, the faithful, the true and the gentle, surrounds me with company. I need no more.

It is almost noon.

You can only feel for families that have to struggle with these decisions.

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Key on euthanasia

July 5th, 2014 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Prime Minister John Key has signalled possible loosening of euthanasia laws, saying he would sympathise with “speeding up of the process” of death for a terminally ill patient.

He told Family First director Bob McCoskrie in a public interview at a forum in Auckland yesterday that euthanasia would be “a legitimate thing” to speed up death for a terminally ill patient who was in pain.

But he said he would not vote for a bill proposed by Labour MP Maryan Street that would allow any adult suffering from a condition likely to cause their death within 12 months to request medical assistance to die.

“If it’s the same bill, I’ll oppose it because I think the way that bill was structured is not good law,” he said. “In the world that I live in, in my head, it’s a conscience issue. So when someone says to me ‘euthanasia’ I think of the person that is terminally ill, that is going to die, and in a tremendous amount of times and in my world, euthanasia is a legitimate thing in that situation.”

I agree.

He said modern medical practice was to give terminally ill patients pain relief and allow the natural process of death to occur.

“The palliative care would not do anything to prolong their life or to shorten their life. What I would say is in that scenario I … could understand the speeding up of the process,” he said. “The bill goes a lot further than that. In the situation where grandma is 92 [and people just want her to go], that’s not acceptable.”

I’m not sure the Street bill does do that. Regardless I would hope it would be sent to select committee, so NZers can have their say on the issue, and the bill can be given as many safeguards as possible.

Labour leader David Cunliffe declined to comment on the issue yesterday and Ms Street did not return calls.

This is one reason people like John Key – he will give his personal opinion on an issue – even if to an audience where almost everyone disagrees with him.

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A conscience vote in the UK on euthanasia

March 11th, 2014 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

The Telegraph reports:

The legislation of assisted suicide has moved a significant step closer after the Government made clear that it would not stand in the way of a change in the law.

Conservative and Liberal Democrat MPs and peers – including Coalition ministers – will be given a free vote on a Bill that would enable doctors to help terminally ill patients to die, The Telegraph can disclose.

That will be a fascinating vote. There will be MPs in all parties both for and against.

Under the 1961 Suicide Act, it remains a criminal offence carrying up to 14 years in jail to help someone to take their own life.

Four years ago, the Director of Public Prosecutions issued guidelines that made clear that anyone who assisted a loved one to die while “acting out of compassion” was unlikely to be charged. Since then, around 90 such cases have been examined and no one prosecuted.

So there is a de facto legalisation. It is appropriate the law reflect the reality.

A Bill drawn up by Lord Falconer, a former Labour lord chancellor, to legalise “assisted dying” – allowing doctors to prescribe a lethal dose of drugs to terminally-ill patients – is before the House of Lords. Peers are expected to vote on the plans in the next four months.

If the Bill is supported there, it will then pass to the Commons where some MPs say they have detected growing support for the move – influenced by opinion polls suggesting that up to three quarters of the public would support a change in the law.

A 2010 poll found 82% in favour and just 13% opposed.

Observers in Parliament estimate that just over a third of MPs would back a change in the law, a smaller group is strongly opposed, and up to 40 per cent are undecided.

I think a change to allow euthanasia for terminally ill people in pain would gain the support of most MPs in the NZ Parliament.

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Scott Adams on Euthanasia

November 26th, 2013 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

Scott Adams is the genius creator of the Dilbert strip. He wrote at the weekend:

I hope my father dies soon. …

My father, age 86, is on the final approach to the long dirt nap (to use his own phrase). His mind is 98% gone, and all he has left is hours or possibly months of hideous unpleasantness in a hospital bed. I’ll spare you the details, but it’s as close to a living Hell as you can get.

If my dad were a cat, we would have put him to sleep long ago. And not once would we have looked back and thought too soon.  …

I’d like to proactively end his suffering and let him go out with some dignity. But my government says I can’t make that decision. Neither can his doctors. So, for all practical purposes, the government is torturing my father until he dies.

I’m a patriotic guy by nature. I love my country. But the government? Well, we just broke up.

And let me say this next part as clearly as I can.

If you’re a politician who has ever voted against doctor-assisted suicide, or you would vote against it in the future, I hate your fucking guts and I would like you to die a long, horrible death. I would be happy to kill you personally and watch you bleed out. I won’t do that, because I fear the consequences. But I’d enjoy it, because you motherfuckers are responsible for torturing my father. Now it’s personal.

Scott’s father died a few hours after he wrote this.

While I don’t condone his anger, I empathise with it. No one should have to go through what Scott Adams and his father went through. It is inhumane.

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Cunliffe won’t reveal euthanasia stance

October 16th, 2013 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Labour leader David Cunliffe said the coroner’s recommendation was “interesting”. Mr Cunliffe, a staunch Anglican, said he would not reveal his personal stance on legalising euthanasia, which wouldbe decided by a conscience vote if itcame before Parliament.

“I have a personal view, but given my current responsibilities I’m going to reserve that until my caucus has an opportunity to discuss it.”

I’m sorry, but the Labour caucus has already discussed it. Street would have needed the permission of caucus to lodge her bill last year.

Why can’t Cunliffe just tell us his view? Is he worried that it may upset some people.

Prime Minister John Key said he broadly supported the principle of voluntary euthanasia and would consider it if he was terminally ill.

He said the Government would not introduce it as policy because a clear party stance was required and many National MPs would not support it.

Mr Key said he would not back Ms Street’s bill because he felt it went too far.

A good contrast. Key gives his personal view, and even says how he would vote on Street’s bill. You know where you stand with him.

UPDATE: Even weirder Cunliffe has previously said he would vote for Street’s bill, so why is he now being coy?

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Killing yourself home alone

October 15th, 2013 at 6:28 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

A coroner is calling for Parliament to make up its mind about euthanasia after an elderly woman chose to suffocate herself with a handmade contraption in her Lower Hutt home.

Widow Edna Gluyas, 85, waited for her family to leave from a visit and lay down in her bed for a final time, alone, before setting in motion the process that would kill her on August 3, 2011

What an awful way to be forced to go, because there was no legal option for ending her life.

Less than two hours later, her daughter returned to find her dead by what Wellington Regional Coroner Ian Smith has determined “euthanasia by suffocation”.

In his report, Smith calls for Parliament to confront the issue of euthanasia – a topic that has long been dodged.

“Once again this death raises the vexed issue of euthanasia and, as I have recorded in past cases, this process simply will not go away, and it will be necessary for Parliament to address this matter yet again.”

I agree.

Three weeks ago, Labour MP Maryan Street withdrew her End of Life Choice Bill to legalise voluntary euthanasia, amid fears that it would become a political football during election year.

Street withdrew it because her caucus bullied her into doing so. They just didn’t want to be associated with a controversial election in election year. So instead people like Edna Gluyas will have to continue to kill themselves with no opportunity to say goodbye to loved ones, in order to escape from their chronic pain.

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Street drops euthanasia bill

September 27th, 2013 at 6:40 am by David Farrar

Hamish Rutherford at Stuff reports:

A bill to legalise voluntary euthanasia has been withdrawn amid fears it would become a political football during election year.

Labour MP Maryan Street withdrew her End of Life Choice Bill before today’s member’s bill ballot.

I’m sad that Maryan has dropped the bill, because not changing the law means far too many people will have to go through unnecessary suffering.

The bill was not just about people with cancer. It would have allowed people like Martin Hames who had Huntington’s disease to live for many more years, as he would not have had to commit suicide if he had known that he could choose an assisted suicide later on in his life when his disease became more critical.

Street said there would probably be only two more days this year in which member’s bills would be considered by the House.

“Anything that is drawn, including the ones drawn today, will be debated in election year, and I don’t want my bill debated in election year,” she said.

“I’m concerned that it would not get the treatment it deserves. It needs sober, considered reflection, and that’s not a hallmark of election years in my experience.”

The move was simply pragmatism, she said, and she “absolutely” planned to put it back in the ballot after the election.

“Can you understand that sometimes MPs’ thought processes take a swerve in election year?”

Street was believed to have been pressured by Labour colleagues to withdraw the bill amid concerns that some would have to campaign against it, distracting from the rest of the campaign.

I don’t think it is about election year. I think it is about pressure from Labour MPs.

What would be good is if a Green Party MP took the bill and submitted it into the ballot under their name!

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Will Street drop euthanasia bill?

July 17th, 2013 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

Isaac Davidson at NZ Herald reports:

Labour MP Maryan Street is under pressure to drop a member’s bill which would legalise euthanasia because her party is concerned it could be a negative distraction in the lead-up to the general election next year.

If Ms Street’s End of Life Choice Bill was pulled from the ballot, the debate could extend into election year, and some Labour MPs felt this could hurt the party’s run for Government by distracting from its main policies and deterring more conservative voters.

Ms Street said that several colleagues had discussed with her what would happen if the bill were pulled from the ballot in 2014.

I think they are more worried that the euthanasia bill could help the Conservative Party make 5%.

Personally I’ll be very disappointed if Maryan does drop the bill. I think we inflict some terrible suffering on people by not allowing them to opt for euthanasia.

If she does drop the bill, then maybe a Green Party MP can pick it up?

At present, there are 69 members’ bills in the ballot. Nine members’ bills were still waiting for a first reading, so another ballot was unlikely to be held until the end of the year.

Not quite right. Once the number awaiting first reading drops below eight, then another ballot is held. I expect another ballot in August, say September at the latest.

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Assisted suicide may allow some to live longer

April 30th, 2013 at 7:03 am by David Farrar

The BBC reports:

The court has previously heard that Ms Fleming, who is not attending the three-day hearing, is confined to a wheelchair, physically helpless, lives in constant pain, cannot swallow and suffers choking sessions which wear her out.

She wants to be allowed die peacefully with dignity at home, when she chooses, in the arms of her long-term partner, Tom Curran, without him facing the threat of jail.

Brian Murray, senior counsel, told seven judges hearing the appeal in Dublin on Wednesday that his client was being denied what she seeks for fear that without an absolute ban on assisted suicide there could be more relaxed practices by doctors.

“It is our position that it is possible to design legislation that facilitates the plaintiff in a way that does not present any risk to the involuntary death of others,” he said.

Mr Murray said it may be legitimate government policy to discourage people from choosing death over life, but he argued it was not a proper basis for telling people what decision they can make about their lives.

What strikes me in cases like this, is provision for assisted suicide may allow those in this situation to live longer. If you know your partner or a doctor can assist you to end your life when your quality of life has become intolerable, you can put that day off until as long as possible.

But if you know that once you reach the point of being physically unable to do it yourself, then there is no legal way for you to end your suffering, you may commit suicide years before you otherwise would have to.

That is not just a theory. It has happened here in New Zealand. I’ve blogged on such a case before.

Just as I think the rights of someone when living should be paramount when it comes to issues such as organ donation and burial location, I think you should also have the right to decide to die, and gain assistance if necessary.

Of course there must be stringent safeguards. But the debate should be on what those safeguards should be, not on whether people should be made to suffer.

In December, Ms Fleming told a three judge division of the High Court court the ban on assisted suicide was forcing her to live against her will in a life of pain and indignity.

The former lecturer is almost completely physically incapable and would need help to take her own life.

The irony is that if she was not in such an agonising condition, should would be able to kill herself without assistance.

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A difficult case

January 16th, 2013 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Two identical and deaf Belgian brothers have been euthanised after the inseparable middle-aged pair found out they were going blind and would never see each other again.

Marc and Eddy Verbessem were 45. They lived and worked together; and last month they died together after a Belgium hospital accepted their request to be euthanised.

Belgium is one of three countries where euthanasia is legal for non-terminally ill patients.

So long as people are mentally competent and rational, I think they should be able to decide to end their own lives. This case is a good example of how difficult a case can be.

The twins’ brother Dirk Verbessem defended their decision.

“Many will wonder why my brothers have opted for euthanasia because there are plenty of deaf and blind that have a ‘normal’ life,” The Telegraph reported him as saying.

“But my brothers trudged from one disease to another. They were really worn out.”

His brothers were both going blind with glaucoma and Eddy had a deformed spine and had recently undergone heart surgery, The Telegraph reported.

“The great fear that they would no longer be able to see, or hear, each other and the family was, for my brothers, unbearable,” he said.

Dr David Durfour, who treated the brothers, said their physical condition was strongly deteriorating and it was a “weight off their shoulders” when they learnt their request to be euthanised had been accepted, the Huffington Post reported.

“They were happy and relieved that a date was set to end their suffering.”

The day of their deaths was “serene and beautiful”, week.co.uk reported the doctor as saying.

“They had a cup of coffee in the hall, it went well… The separation from their parents and brother was very serene and beautiful. At the last there was a little wave of their hands and then they were gone.”

An ending the brothers preferred to the alternative.

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Marriage and Death

January 6th, 2013 at 8:31 am by David Farrar

The HoS publishes a Key Research poll:

POLL

Do you think that same-sex civil unions should be extended to marriage?
• Yes 53.9%
• No 38.1%
• Unsure 8%

Do you think doctors should be allowed by law to end an incurable patient’s life, if the patient requests it?
• Yes 60.5%
• No 18.2%
• Depends on situation 16.2%
• Unsure 5.1%

A very low level of outright opposition to the euthanasia proposition.

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Guest Post on Euthanasia

September 11th, 2012 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

A guest post by Martin Ryan on euthanasia:

Simon, Louise and the kids came to visit today.  Little Katie had her first day at school last week, she was so excited about it and showed me the picture that she drew for me.  I’m running out of room for them!  It’s lovely that she remembers her old grandma.  It’s so wonderful to see them every couple of weeks and share their little milestones.

Simon’s having a hard time at the moment though.  The recession has hit his plumbing business very hard.  He reckons he’s got another three months and then they’ll have to look at selling their home.  He’s worked so hard to get where he is.

I know this place is costing them a lot. $500 a week is a big additional expense at the moment.  Since I lost all my money in Blue Chip finance I’ve had to rely on Simon and Louise and they’ve been great about it.  He never mentions it and bats it away as the least he can do whenever I bring it up.  Tom and I raised a great son.

But it’s not fair on him.  He deserves to have a better life than that.  He needs his house now more than he needs a rattly old mother.  I figure if left to natural means I’ve got another few years in me.  I’d love to see Sarah hit school too, and perhaps even finish the memoirs.  But that’s at least $50k out of Simon and Louise’s pocket.  Out of Sarah and Katie’s university fund.

Such a fall.  I used to make such a difference in this world, teaching, speaking.  Now I’m nothing but a burden on my family.

Yes, they’ll be fine without me – better off in fact.  I’ll speak with the doctors tomorrow.  I’ll play something up, maybe the kidneys.  I hear they don’t ask too many questions if you’ve got all your marbles.  

I remember when they introduced the euthanasia law they talked about all the safeguards they’d put in.  But of course the standards slip.  They have to, there’s too much work to do to check every old lady’s reasons.

I’m always happy to run guest posts. It goes without saying I don’t agree with the perspective in this post as being at all realistic, but I accept some people think that could happen.

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Rodney on Euthanasia – his full column

August 27th, 2012 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

Rodney Hide has written in the Herald on Sunday on why he supports euthanasia, and the so sad case of Martin Hames who had to kill himself because we did not allow euthanasia. Rodney has told the story before, but not to quite the same detail. I can’t abridge it, so quote it in full:

I doubt my friend Martin Hames ever needed a decent pair of pyjamas. But 10 years ago, he went and bought himself a brand new pair.

Martin lived alone. He didn’t own a TV. He didn’t have a car. He was the shyest man I have ever met. I never knew him to have a girlfriend.

Martin worked with me in Parliament. He used to call me Boss even though I wasn’t. It was his way of getting me to do things. He would say, “Focus on the big picture, Boss. Get stuck into government expenditure/apartheid/the-failing-school system.” I almost always followed Martin’s advice.

He had worked for the Reserve Bank then with Ruth Richardson when she was Minister of Finance. He wrote the brilliant book Winston First. That was about you-know-who. He wrote numerous policy papers and penned many speeches. He wrote a marvellous book titled The Crisis In New Zealand Schools.

Martin was wickedly funny and socially awkward. He didn’t so much walk as jerk along. His arms often waved about uncontrollably.

I still laugh when I remember him throwing a cup of coffee over his shoulder.

That was when our gorgeous press secretary told him he could slip sugar into her hot drink anytime he liked.

Martin’s mother had died of Huntington’s disease. Her truly dreadful death took years. In the final stages of Huntington’s the mind loses its ability to control even the simplest movements – even swallowing is difficult and many sufferers die choking.

So, at 19 years old, Martin learned he had a 50 per cent chance of suffering the disease. He decided not to marry. Or have children. The risk was too great. And in his 40th year he got the fateful diagnosis.

We knew what he was planning. But the law forbade us helping or even knowing.

He put his affairs in order. On his own, one night at home, alone, he pinned a note to his new pyjama top: “Huntington’s disease: Please Do Not Resuscitate”. He attempted a massive overdose. But poor Martin. He didn’t get all the pills down.

His neighbour found him. Martin regained consciousness in Wellington Hospital. The circulation had stopped to his legs and the doctors wanted to amputate.

Martin asked what would happen if they didn’t cut his legs off. “You will die”.

“Good,” replied Martin, “I have Huntington’s disease.”

The doctors and nurses understood, wheeled him into intensive care. They gave him pain relief, looked after him. They were truly marvellous.

I dreaded going to see him. I needn’t have. “I am having a great death, Boss. I am getting to say goodbye to my friends.”

His characteristic shyness was gone. Why bother? It was his last day on this Earth.

Ruth Richardson shed a tear. “See,” said Martin, “I always knew you were a big softie.”

The young press sec kissed Martin and said, “See you round.” Martin replied: “Maybe – it’s taking me longer to die than they thought.”

Martin Hames died peacefully in his sleep in the early hours of the next morning. His dad was there. He died happy and he died content.

Martin had every right to take his own life. He also had every right to ask for help. But to give that help is against the law.

Martin feared he would slip into madness or lose control before he killed himself and be sentenced to years of suffering that would be hateful to him.

Maryan Street’s End of Life Choice Bill, now before Parliament, would have enabled Martin to plan his death better. He would not have needed to rush to it.

He and I joked one last time. Then he was serious. He said if I wanted to do something in his memory it would be to change our law so no one else had to go through what he had had to go through. He said, “Boss, change it, change it for all the others.”

I told him I would do my very best.

This column’s not as good as you could write, Martin. But it’s my best. And it’s for you.

Up until reading this account some years ago, I had been slightly anti-euthanasia. Coming from a medical family I did not like the idea of doctors ever having a role in ending life rather than preserving it. But I realised how selfish that preference was, when I read the awful choice the current law forced on people like Martin. No one should ever have been forced into having to make the choice he did.

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PM on Euthanasia

August 23rd, 2012 at 8:00 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Prime Minister John Key says euthanasia already happens in our hospitals – and if he was terminally ill, he would consider it.

Doctors disagreed with him last night, saying his view of the situation was too simplistic.

We definitely have passive euthanasia – it is quite common. Active euthanasia, would be very rare, but I suspect there are cases where the drug dosage is increased with a quicker end in mind.

Mr Key said yesterday that he could understand the argument that legalising euthanasia might put pressure on the elderly to end their lives early, in the face of “rapacious grandkids”, but “I don’t really buy that argument”.

“I think there’s a lot of euthanasia that effectively happens in our hospitals,” he told Newstalk ZB.

“. . . If I had terminal cancer, I had a few weeks to live, I was in tremendous amount of pain – if they just effectively wanted to turn off the switch and legalise that by legalising euthanasia, I’d want that.”

As would many people, who are denied the choice.

Of course with euthanasia, there is a risk of abuse. Just as with fracking there is a samll risk of small earthquakes and with our criminal justice system there is a risk of innocent people going to jail.

These are all reasons to minimise risk, and have strong safeguards in place. They are not reasons to not allow people to decide to die if in pain and suffering.

Also yesterday, Mr Key revealed that his views on gay marriage had changed, largely in response to having children.

He has stated his support for a bill legalising gay marriage, but said: “If you asked me questions on same-sex marriage 20 or 30 years ago, I might have taken a different view.

“But the way I look at the world now is I look at our own kids and my No 1 priority for our children is to be happy, healthy and safe.

“I don’t think they are gay, but if they came along and said they were, I wouldn’t love them any less.”

A great attitude.

I recently met a mum whose five year old may turn out to be gay or trans-gender. He loves to wear dresses, put on jewelry etc and complains why isn’t he a girl. Now it may just be a fad or a phase, or it may be that he is “wired” that way. I asked the mum (and she is straight, and the dad is straight) if they tried to discourage him, as he may end up with a lot of teasing through his childhood if he continues to dress up as a girl etc and she said that they never ever want him to think there is something “wrong” with him. They just absolutely love him to pieces for who he is, and will just support and love him regardless of where it leads. I thought it was such a cool attitude.

The son is pretty precocious also. As a five year old when he discovered there were no costumes at school, he went along to see the principal to lobby for the school to buy some costumes for dress up.

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Palliative Care and Euthanasia

August 17th, 2012 at 7:23 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

National Party MP Maggie Barry says the standard of healthcare for New Zealanders with terminal and chronic illnesses is so high euthanasia should not be considered as an alternative.

Ms Barry’s All Party Parliamentary Group on Palliative Care will meet for the first time today and aims to improve MPs’ understanding of the care available.

Palliative care focuses on relieving the suffering of patients with chronic or life-threatening illnesses.

Ms Barry was partly inspired to form the group after witnessing the high-quality care her parents received before their deaths.

Her father was diagnosed with cancer and stayed in Mary Potter Hospice until his death 15 years ago. “Mum and I were able to go up there and spend time with him. I had dreaded it but it was as good as it could have been.”

But her primary motivation is to oppose assisted suicide as an alternative for seriously ill patients.

I respect that people have a variety of views on whether or not it is desirable to allow euthanasia or assisted suicide. I also respect the wonderful work done by hospices such as Mary Potter.

However I believe it is wrong to frame the argument as a choice between palliative care and euthanasia. It is not. Euthanasia is not just about people dying of cancer. It is also about people who have degenerative conditions such as Huntington’s disease.

Rodney Hide told the story of Martin Hames, who effectively committed suicide while he still could, because one day he would have been unable to do so. A euthanasia law would have allowed Martin to continue to enjoy many more years of life, if he was confident that once hie body and mind had degenerated, his previous wishes could be legally implemented.

Huntington’s disease is an awful infliction. Around 35% of those who have Huntington’s disease try to kill themselves.

So palliative care is not an alternative to euthanasia in all cases. And where it is an alternative – it should be a choice for the dying person. I do not think it is the role of the state to tell people they can not end their lives if they are in agony. The role of the state should be to put in place rigorous safeguards around those decisions.

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The End of Life Choice Bill

July 23rd, 2012 at 4:11 pm by David Farrar

Maryan Street has finalised her euthanasia bill, called the End of Life Choice Bill.  The last bill on euthanasia failed just 58-60 in 2003, so there is a very reasonable chance that such a bill can pass, if drawn.

I believe we need such a bill, and will be supporting it. It is inhumane what some families are forced to go through. They key elements of the bill are:

  • that the person making the request must be mentally competent, as attested by 2 medical practitioners – and that there is no coercion involved
  • that the person suffers from a terminal illness which is likely to cause death within 12 months, or from an irreversible physical or mental condition that, in the person’s view, renders his or her life unbearable
  • A 7 day reflection period
  • Can do an end of life directive, while mentally competent, specifying wishes. Must be renewed every five years
  • Medical practitioners can refuse to be involved
  • Family members can not annul the wishes of the applicant (unlike with organ donations!)
  • An annual review of how the law is being operated

There are no doubt some areas of the bill that can be improved upon in select committee, but to me it looks worthy of support for at least first reading.

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Euthanasia legalised by Canadian court

June 22nd, 2012 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

Bob McCoskrie reports:

 The B.C. Supreme Court has ruled that Canada’s ban on assisted suicide is unconstitutional. Justice Lynn Smith issued a 395-page ruling in the Carter v. Canada case Friday morning, determining that the ban discriminates against the disabled. The Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, which intervened in the case, immediately urged the Crown to appeal Smith’s decision to the BC Court of Appeal and to seek an order that stays the effect of the decision until such time as that appeal is heard. Given that suicide is legal in Canada, Justice Smith argues that the ban violates the equality provision in section 15 of Canada’s Charter because it prevents the disabled from getting the help they may need to kill themselves. The case centres on Gloria Taylor, who was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease or ALS in 2009. Taylor says she does not currently wish to kill herself, but wants to have assurance that she could receive help to commit suicide in future. Justice Smith argues that the ban “perpetuates disadvantage” because it “is felt particularly acutely by persons such as Ms. Taylor, who are grievously and irremediably ill, physically disabled or soon to become so, mentally competent and who wish to have some control over their circumstances at the end of their lives.” Ironically, Justice Smith also argues that the ban violates the right to life under section 7 of the Charter because it could lead someone to commit suicide earlier than they might otherwise, while they are still physically able to do it themselves.

I think the court is absolutely right. Our current laws do mean people commit suicide before they might otherwise. Read Rodney Hide’s speech here for a sad example. An extract:

I want to raise a memory of a man whom many members knew—Martin Hames, who died last year on 8 August. If Mr Brown’s bill had been the law, Martin Hames would still be with us, I am sure. He would not have needed to take his own life, as he did. He had Huntington’s disease. He discovered in 1979 that his mother had it. He did not marry, because he had a 50 percent chance of getting it, and he was diagnosed with Huntington’s disease. He had watched his mother die a terrible death—a death where one loses one’s mind and loses control, to the extent that one cannot swallow.

Martin Hames loved life. He loved independence. He could not stand the thought of ending without the ability to swallow. Last year he prepared everything. He swallowed a whole lot of pills and he passed out. He had bought new pyjamas, and he had a note pinned to his chest saying “Please do not resuscitate”. The ambulance came, and they resuscitated him. He came to in hospital, and they said to Martin Hames that he had septicaemia in his legs and they wanted to take them off. He said: “What would happen if you don’t take my legs off?”, and they said: “You will die.” He said: “Well, good, because I have Huntington’s disease.”

They gave him some pain relief and pushed him off to the side in Wellington Hospital, and he spent the day dying. I dreaded going to see Martin Hames and saying goodbye to a very special friend, but one of the greatest things I have ever done is seeing a man dying with dignity. He told me, when I went in there, and he told all his friends—from Treasury, from Michael Cullen’s office, people from across the political spectrum who had worked with him, and from the National Party—that he was having a good death. He used to call me “Boss”, and he said: “I’m having a good death, Boss, because I didn’t think I’d get the opportunity to say goodbye to all my friends.” He had that chance.

A sad end, which was avoidable.

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The euthanasia debate

May 6th, 2012 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

John Kleinsman writes in the SST:

But so, I would argue, is every other personal view. Whether or not people are personally in favour of, or opposed to euthanasia, is ultimately beside the point. To ask this question, as a recent Sunday Star-Times’ poll did, is to ask the wrong question. The crucial question is whether euthanasia can be safely implemented in the current context. Maryan Street, MP, glibly asserts that it can, while ignoring overseas evidence that says otherwise. I and many other New Zealanders of no religious persuasion believe differently. Our argument centres on safety and protection of those who are vulnerable.

If the debate is about how do we make euthanasia safe, rather than does a person have a right to end their own life, then that is a step forward.

We should firstly recognise that we already have unregulated passive euthanasia in New Zealand, where people are allowed to die, even though they could be kept alive. I think there is far greater risk in the status quo, than in legislating the circumstances under which someone’s wishes to die can be implemented with assistance.

The Northern Territory law mandated:

  • A patient had to be over 18 and be mentally and physically competent
  • The request had to be supported by three doctors, including a specialist who confirmed that the patient was terminally ill and a psychiatrist who certified that the patient was not suffering from treatable depression
  • A nine day cooling off period

That seems like good safeguards to me. In the Netherlands the safeguards are:

  • the patient’s suffering is unbearable with no prospect of improvement
  • the patient’s request for euthanasia must be voluntary and persist over time
  • the patient must be fully aware of his/her condition, prospects and options
  • there must be consultation with at least one other independent doctor who needs to confirm the conditions mentioned above
  • the death must be carried out in a medically appropriate fashion by the doctor or patient, in which case the doctor must be present
  • the patient is at least 12 years old (patients between 12 and 16 years of age require the consent of their parents)
  • A regional review committee assesses whether a case of termination of life on request or assisted suicide complies with the due care criteria

I think 12 is far too young, and would take the restrictions from the Northern Territory as being stronger.

The reality is that that it is not that difficult to come up with restrictions and safeguards to restrict it to cases where the patient is in immense pain and suffering, and will die anyway. Having a euthanasia law will in fact allow many patients to live longer as as present some kill themselves while they are still able. A euthanasia law would mean they would not have to do so, if they knew later on they could ask for euthanasia. Those who have Huntington’s Disease especially would benefit.

That the dangers of euthanasia are real is readily acknowledged by those wanting to legalise it. It explains why a lot of emphasis is placed on building in so-called safeguards. It has also been admitted by Maryan Street, in a public debate, that no amount of safeguards can stop the law being abused. So the argument about dangers cannot be dismissed as the rantings of “meddling god-botherers”.

Any law can be abused. We have a law against murder, but that doesn’t stop it. We have euthanasia happening at the moment, despite no law. The fact a law can be ignored is not a reason to not rationally consider the benefits of such a law.

I recently met Sean Davison, who was convicted of assisting in the suicide of his mother. He strikes me as a genuine, warm person, who had the courage to follow his beliefs. It is apparent he did not make his decision lightly, and that he thought long and hard about his action. But there will no longer be any need for the same degree of soul-searching if euthanasia was to become legal.

What John Kleinsman glosses over is Sean Davison faced a criminal trial and could have neded up in jail for many years, as the result of his love and compassion. I do not believe making euthanasia legal will mean there is no soul-searching. But it will transfer the decision from Sean to his mother – she is the person who should have got to decide, rather than have her son tormented by agreeing to her wishes.

In addition, in a society that is increasingly characterised by the isolation of the elderly, growing pressure on health care resources, and growing numbers of elderly people requiring expensive care, legalising euthanasia will contribute to those who are at the end of life, and those who are disabled, increasingly feeling they are a burden. They will feel as if they have to justify their existence to the rest of us.

I do not accept that argument, and regardless I would propose that it be available only to those in considerable pain and suffering – not just those who are old.

It is what one commentator has called “the distant and off-handed dismissal of the quality of life of certain people”. No law can offer safeguards against this. The right to die will quickly become the duty to die.

It hasn’t where it has been legal. This is just scare-mongering.

We should not underestimate, even for a moment, the subtle ways, conscious and unconscious, families have of putting pressure on their own to relieve their burden of care – both emotional and financial. Those working with the dying know this only too well. The very act of making euthanasia legal will remove the most effective barrier we currently have against such abuses.

Simple – you do not allow it, unless they are in pain and suffering. Merely dying of old age will not qualify.

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Support for Euthanasia?

April 29th, 2012 at 10:53 am by David Farrar

Sarah Harvey in the SST  reports:

The MP campaigning for the right to die has been buoyed by a poll that shows more than 85 per cent of respondents to a survey supported voluntary euthanasia.

The Sunday Star-Times reader poll of more than 1000 people also found almost three-quarters of people would help a terminally-ill loved one commit suicide, and that support for a law change is highest among men, and those over 60. Labour MP Maryan Street has been working with the Voluntary Euthanasia Society on her End of Life Choice Bill, which would give people the right to “choose how and when they exit this life”.

The private members bill will have to be drawn from the ballot to get a hearing, but Street says the reader poll had the highest support she had seen, with most polls getting 75 per cent backing for a law change.

I wouldn’t compare a readers poll to polls of random New Zealanders. I do think however there is considerable support for a law change amongst the public.

“There is more support out in the community for this than people imagine,” Street said. She had seen a change since a 1995 euthanasia vote was lost 61-29, to 60-57 when it was revisited in 2003. “And, nine years on, attitudes have changed again.”

I think the current law is quite cruel when people like Sean Davison are made into criminals for doing what his mother begged him to do.

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