Palliative Care and Euthanasia

The Herald reports:

National Party MP says the standard of healthcare for New Zealanders with terminal and chronic illnesses is so high 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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