Hear from a North Islander
As a GP involved with chronic and palliative care for patients in my small community, I am very concerned about the potential for harm to my patients and NZ society in general if the law is altered to allow assisted suicide or euthanasia. The proposed law change would fundamentally alter the nature of all doctor-patient interactions changing our role from providing best-care to providing an "end-of-life" option to patients. None of us wish to suffer pain or indignity, but neither do we want our freedoms to be removed in a society where doctors can kill patients without their consent.
Many New Zealanders do not appreciate the difference between alleviating suffering and withdrawing burdensome or futile treatments which are already cornerstones of good palliative care in NZ and physician-assisted deliberate ending of life which is currently illegal in our country.
I, along with the New Zealand Medical Association and many of my GP colleagues do not wish to provide "treatments" with the intent to end life, even for patients who might request this. This would undermine public trust in doctors.
I will continue to endeavour to enhance quality of life to enable my patients to enjoy the precious moments they have, including at the end of life. I think of a woman I cared for . . . who passed away peacefully at home, with her hours-old grandchild in her arms. This moment provided joy in her last breaths and was healing for her family and may not have occurred had she felt pressured to request an earlier death.
If euthanasia is legalised, the risk to vulnerable individuals is unacceptable, with international experience showing that the right-to-die readily becomes a "duty-to-die" for those not wishing to be a burden on others. Even more concerning is the possibility that individuals not able to make this choice (such as disabled children and the mentally unwell) would be euthanised without their specific request. The "right to die" threatens the lives of similarly affected individuals who do not wish to die. In countries such as Belgium and the Netherlands, despite more rigorous reporting than what is proposed here, a frightening proportion of euthanised individuals have not given consent and are not terminally ill.
While it is easy for us when well to assume we would not wish to remain alive if we were disabled, most people living with disability and chronic illnesses do not wish to die. Feeling depressed, lonely and hopeless, whatever the underlying condition, are driving factors in people wanting to end their lives. Being dependent on one another is a natural part of life and pretending otherwise is to ignore the richness of human interactions across our lifespan. I, like many health professionals, advocate for best care for those faced with painful and debilitating conditions. Euthanasia would undoubtedly be cheaper than best care, but this does not make it a desirable or morally good option.
In my own family there are three members who require assistance with their daily living due to ongoing disability. While an outsider might assume their quality of life is poor, it is the life they know and by and large they are as happy, if not happier, than anyone else. They share joy with us, and we become more compassionate as we extend love and care to them.
New advances in medication, that were not foreseen at the time of diagnosis, have made a huge improvement for one family member enabling her to live far more independently than anyone had expected. Had her life been prematurely ended at her lowest moment, she would have missed these best days.
I am pleased that my children have loving relationships with people of varying levels of ability. I want them to learn to respect, treasure and care for people not because they are able, but because they are people. To adapt Nelson Mandela's famous quote, "There can be no keener revelation of a society's soul than the way in which it treats its vulnerable."