Looks like New Zealand will have to wait a bit longer to show a bit more compassion and humanity towards those facing the end of their lives. I refer to Andrew Little’s decision to withdraw Iain Lees-Galloway’s private members’ bill on voluntary euthanasia. Lees-Galloway had taken on the mantle of piloting the End of Life Choice Bill through parliament, after its original sponsor, former Labour MP Maryan Street, failed to get reelected in September.
I am going to be charitable and suggest that Little’s real reasons for dropping the bill were that he wasn’t quite sure that it would have the numbers to pass across the political spectrum. Either that, or he concurred with those who felt that while there is popular public support for some kind of death with dignity legislation, the safeguards in this particular version were not stringent.
To be honest, though, I think Little has missed an excellent chance to show some political courage and even a populist touch. John Key’s big progressive idea, don’t forget, is the referendum on changing the flag. It sounds breathtakingly radical, until you think about the pointlessness of it all. I wouldn’t object to a change to the silver fern on a black background. But it really won’t alter much from a constitutional perspective; certainly, it will have much less impact on people’s lives than switching to MMP, becoming a republic or, er, signing the Treaty in the first place!
Indeed, I can picture more than a few veterans and their wives grumbling into their sherries down the RSA at Key’s brazen cheek – a supposedly National PM to boot – in replacing one of their cherished symbols of national identity in the name of ‘progress’. The right to die with dignity, however, cuts across class, race and creed. There are few elderly voters or people with elderly parents who would not have a relative or know of someone facing an uncertain future of pain and poor quality of life.
Little’s stated reasons for getting cold feet were baffling. He said:
“It comes down to priorities at the moment. There are more people affected by weak labour market regulation and weak economic strategy than they are about the right to make explicit choices about how they die. 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 don’t know where to start with this, but I have excoriated school debaters for making similar fallacies. We are such awesome multi-taskers that we can actually debate and legislate on many issues, social and fiscal, at the same time. Saying there are more important things to discuss is a bit like saying that you can’t think of anything to say against, so let’s just distract and deflect: cowardly. Priorities are also irrelevant if you are in opposition. There is nothing to stop Little banging on about National’s record on jobs and the economy, while the much-needed debate on euthanasia takes place. After all, any bill on zero hours contracts, say, is very unlikely to get past a watertight National-ACT majority. A conscience vote is a different matter. And in answer to his final point: if the time for talking about having the freedom to decide how we die is not now, when is it?
David Farrar is also disappointed with the decision, and he is hardly a left-wing social engineer! So what are the fearsome arguments against this bill which Little is scared will frighten the
voters horses too much? Let’s take it from the top:
Myth One: If we legalise euthanasia today, it is just a short step to the non-voluntary eugenics of Nazi Germany.
It really isn’t. This is the slippery slope fallacy, and if you analyse it closely, it’s a very weak argument because it implicitly acknowledges that what is on the table today looks OK. Opponents argue that it will necessarily lead to x, which is truly awful, and so we can’t allow it. This is the same sort of nonsense as the notion that gay marriage will lead to bestiality and polygamy. Oh, and ‘studies’ in Holland and Oregon that show ‘evidence’ of elderly abuse as a result of euthanasia laws actually show nothing of the sort.
Myth Two: There is always the possibility of an incorrect diagnosis or a miraculous recovery.
Well, yes there is. Yet that is scant consolation to the 99.9% of terminal sufferers who do not manage a miraculous recovery. This also presupposes that people are always desperately hoping for a last minute cure. Many who are terminally ill, and have come to terms with their situation, find an inner calm and decide to try and live their remaining time in as civilised a way as possible. For the vast majority, we can hardly say that their determined decision to die is unreasonable.
Myth Three: Old people are vulnerable and unlikely to have thought through and be fully educated on the consequences
Way to go to patronise the terminally ill. Any legislation would require a lengthy process of consultation. The stringent safeguards would make a rash decision impossible. This is not equatable to someone suffering depression, getting drunk and then recklessly taking their own life.
Myth Four: Palliative care is so much better than it used to be
OK, that’s not a myth – it is. But I question what relevance this has on whether people should have the right to die with dignity. It’s not a binary choice. A decision to end life is not a slur on the quality of palliative care. And anyone who decides to go down the route of euthanasia will have already undergone a fair bit of palliative care. It is also a dubious argument to say that palliative care has improved, as though that might suggest a recovery. By definition, palliative care is an option when recovery has been ruled out.
The most vocal opponents will be the religious right. And I deplore how they disingenuously refuse to say that they simply don’t like the idea, which would at least be honest. Instead, we are treated to patronising fallacies and dubious ‘evidence’. Oh well, this is an issue whose time has come. Who in the Beehive will be bold enough to take it on?