The End of Life Choice Bill has passed its 2nd reading by 70 votes to 50, which is a healthy margin. I’m very pleased to see it progress. The debate was excellent, as conscience issues often are.
Some of the key speeches. David Seymour:
Finally, I ask what does this House say to the small minority of people who find themselves suffering at the end of their life? Do we require them to suffer on for the morality of others, or do we give them compassion and choice?
All of us are affected by our own experiences in this issue. For me, it was watching my mother die a gruesome, painful, and dehumanising death, and it wasn’t because there was a lack of palliative care. It wasn’t because there wasn’t every opportunity and every drug available, and if she’d wanted to spend her last days drugged to the eyeballs, feeling nothing, I’m sure that was possible, but that isn’t what she wanted. What she wanted was to be able to choose exactly when that end would come in the last few days, and that’s really all we were talking about. This was a woman who was proud, independent, intelligent, who knew what she wanted, and the last thing she wanted was to be able to have the ability to choose the time of her death. Instead, we watched her literally get eaten alive from a vicious melanoma and suffer, as I say, in immeasurable ways. There should be the opportunity to work out if we can devise a scheme in which that sort of suffering doesn’t need to happen.
I can only think about my own mother, who died a difficult death with her brain cancer. I had to go and tell her what the specialist had discovered when she had the scan, and her options were at that stage no treatment and death perhaps within a month, or to undergo some treatment and life could be extended perhaps as far as 18 months. There was no in-between. It was: choose to live on or choose to go very, very quickly. When I told her that, it was very distressing for me, I have to say, but she just sort of sat up and said, “What, a month?”, and I said “Yep, Mum, it could be a month.” And she said, “Well, bugger that. I’ll have the treatment.” It wasn’t easy; it was awful. But she did it as much from her desire for us to have a farewell, if you like—the last time that we would have with her, the last weeks or months or whatever it was. The treatment that she got, I think, didn’t alleviate all of her pain by any manner or means, but it did give her a degree of comfort, and in the last hours of her life she was not able to experience or was not experiencing that particular pain. I only say that because it is in itself the start of a confusion, because that was her choice.
In this case I don’t think we should have a bill passed into an Act that makes that choice to end a life so much easier than it is at the moment.
I’ve talked to many people about this issue. It’s troubled me for a long time, and this year I have been very troubled by it because I’ve felt that, having been opposed to it, I was on the wrong side. I am on the wrong side of it in opposing it. I’m on the right side now, saying that everybody deserves some dignity in their lives.
And I talked to Amy Adams about her mother dying—it is awful to think that people are eaten away by something, losing their face, told that one day they could die when the cancer breaks through to their brain. What a dreadful thing to do, and there are options. Somebody shouldn’t have to say, like my dad did, “I have so much pain, I need morphine.” and to have his children saying, “Please give my father more morphine.” because that’s what he wanted. I would do it again. It’s the right thing to do, and it preserved his dignity, and I am very shocked and saddened to hear that so many people don’t have that.
Now, we all will have an incredible number of pressures on us. I myself am a practising Catholic. You don’t think I get a bit of pressure from my mother when I go home? My father spent six years in the seminary. You don’t think that memory doesn’t fit long? However, what I have been elected to do here is to do the absolute right thing. So, in sitting through the submissions that we did—the thousands of them—as we went around the country, we had everyone who stood before us, who spoke before us, came from a very considered position. They all came from an emotional position. But what they all didn’t have the advantage of is doing what we as a select committee did: to hear the different sides.
I have spent my life before this place as a detective, and one thing you learn as a police officer and as a detective is that there are always two sides. And I implore those who have made up their mind to actually have a look at the other side of the argument, because there has been much disinformation about this out there
I believe the law should allow for a dignified death. I believe palliative care is a wonderful thing, but it cannot end all pain and suffering. The status quo actively denies terminally ill people the choice of dying at a time of their choosing with their autonomy recognised and dignity affirmed, and instead gives them an invidious choice: take their own life—often dangerously—or suffer needlessly. I believe we can and must do better.
This debate about this bill is not about alternatives to or substitutes for palliative care. I think we have to be very careful in this debate that we don’t set up these false alternatives. Of course palliative care has a place and will continue to have a place in the healthcare of those who are suffering and dying in this country. So it is not about an alternative to or a substitute for palliative care. This is not a debate about suicide, in the sense that we understand that those who are in a state of despair or depression or who have just given up because of circumstances of their life and who can see no further way forward—that is not what this bill is about. This bill is about those people whose health condition is such that they have no future. They are terminal, but, more than that, the quality of their life has gone. They have their faculties, they are capable of making up their mind, they are capable of making a decision, and the question is whether we should allow the law as it is at the moment to stand in their way to make a decision of their choice about how they wish to meet their inevitable end.
But the fundamental reasons why I support this bill are around compassion. Ultimately, what this is about is that the overwhelming evidence shows there are a group of people who suffer. There are, fundamentally, a group of people for which they suffer, they’re in pain. The overwhelming evidence shows there are also a group of people who commit suicide in a very violent way because they do not believe in the current law and the process that is in front of them.
My personal experiences, like I think everyone in this House, have shaped my view. During my childhood, my grandmother attempted to take her own life many times because she felt a burden on society as someone who struggled at times with a mental illness. My most fundamental concern with this legislation is that sanctioning euthanasia makes it easier for vulnerable people to feel that the most appropriate option is to take their own life, and that it is very difficult to ensure protection sufficient to preclude this ever happening.
I’ve included speeches for and against to show what the debate was like. Again it was one of the better debates you get in the House.
The vote was a conscience vote, but the split by party was:
- National 18 for, 37 against
- Labour 33 for, 13 against
- NZ First 9 for
- Greens 8 for
- ACT 1 for
The committee stage will commence on Wednesday 31 July. I suspect it will take two sitting days so continue on Wednesday 21 August. They key challenge will be considering amendments which will see a final law which will get at least 61 votes at third reading. This will mean including a referendum and narrowing eligibility to those with a terminal illness.