Hear from a South Islander
I am totally opposed to the legalisation of euthanasia and assisted suicide in New Zealand. I wish to share with the Health Select Committee some of my reasons for being so opposed.
I am a permanently and totally blind person. My sight has decreased as I have got older. It is the result of a congenital condition. When I was young, I was taught to see my disability as a challenge to be overcome. I was encouraged to see my life as having great value. I was encouraged to see my life as a gift and living in the world as a privilege. Yes, I would find some things more difficult to achieve than sighted people, but through my own determination, I could achieve much in my life and help inspire others to do likewise, be they able-bodied or not. This has been true and continues to be so.
I am concerned that creating a legal option for people facing terminal illness or long-term disability to be assisted to die, would lessen the determination of people facing challenges to live. I believe a change in the law will make not only the terminally ill, but people with disabilities, much more vulnerable to simply wanting to give up.
I know within my own life that I have gained insight through living as a totally blind person. I did not choose my disability, but I have chosen, through my own attitude and the encouragement of others, to live my life well. I have done this for my own benefit but also for the benefit of others. I have experienced the kindness of others who have helped me. I have been given many opportunities to help them in return.
Living with a long-term illness or disability helps people realise that the world is not perfect and we should not make it so. We should not encourage people to give up on life.
During my life, I have had to trust health professionals to make good decisions for my health. I've always had the sense they would do what ever they could to give me and others the best possible health outcome. If a legal treatment option was death, I am not sure I would have the same trust. I would be worried about going to hospital. With an ageing population and greater pressure on health dollars, euthanasia may be a tempting health rationing mechanism.
In the society we now live in, we know people suffer from depression and isolation. Depression can be long-term and isolation can be hard to address. I would not like legalised euthanasia and assisted suicide to be offered as a way out but that people be encouraged to overcome these difficulties. I would like to see a New Zealand where we work harder to address these problems so that people can live fulfilling and happy lives. Simply saying to them, "If you don't like your life any more, we not longer see value in it either," is not in the least bit hopeful. Hope is so important for people. Surely the compassionate human response to real difficulty is to bring hope and love into that person's life. Can you imagine people having to think, "is today the day I will take the medication" or for others who love them to worry about that day?
I have noticed more recently that Age Concern is reporting high levels of elder abuse. I believe that abuse leading to someone wishing to die would be hard to detect. Inheritance could well play a part. The saying, "Where there's a will, there's a relative" does come to mind. It would be hard to prove that someone had experienced the pressure of family members to seek assistance to die. Would busy health professionals have the time to really look into the reasons and events leading to a decision to seek medical assistance to end a person's life?
I believe there are direct connections between suicide in younger people and legalising assisted suicide for others. How can you say to the young, "Your life is precious" and do everything possible to stop them from committing suicide. But then say to older people or those facing real challenges, "If you want us to help you die, we will do it." Surely that is a mixed message. It is also quite ageist.
I have listened carefully to the arguments of those who believe legalising euthanasia and assisted suicide should be legal. I attended a meeting of the Voluntary Euthanasia Society and found it to be a hopeless and depressing experience. I do not believe the answer for challenges and difficulties lies with those who think ending your life is the solution.
In listening to Lecretia Seales being interviewed, I wanted to say to her to make the most of what life she had left and trust health professionals to manage any pain she may experience. It was sad to see her spend her energy fighting for something in court rather than having quality time with family and friends. I believe she would never want the consequences for others that a law change would inevitably bring. Those who die naturally and peacefully do not seek to be noticed by the media, so we do not necessarily hear their stories of the love they were able to give and receive before they died. I am from Christchurch. Remember the way people supported each other after the quakes. We saw so much good in the way people dealt with adversity. We need that same commitment to help people facing adversity in their health.
I believe there is a lack of imagination on the part of those wishing to see a law change. They have not thought what living in New Zealand would be like for many people if the law is changed. Doctors may be required to administer medication when their conscience would say otherwise. They are trained to help people live. They are not executioners. I believe New Zealand will be a colder place to live in.
As a blind person I have a guide dog. I had the experience of putting my first dog down. That was traumatic for me and others. However, if I was faced with the choice of putting him down or assisting a human being to die, I would still put him down. I know the difference between animal and human life, even though my guide dog was obviously a very close friend. I do not think people are making the distinction between animal and human life, and that is a concern.
I am begging you, the Health Select Committee, to think very hard about this issue and not be swayed by a few difficult situations. We know from information coming from Holland and Belgium and American states that a law introduced to assist a very few people has since been widened to include a wise age range, people with disabilities and those facing psychological conditions. New Zealand is better than that. I ask you to also consider the reasons leading the British House of Commons voting two to one against the introduction of Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide in the UK.
I encourage you to think about better resourcing of palliative care throughout New Zealand. I hope we never get into the situation of making value judgements on the worth of other people's lives.
I make my submission with hope in humanity to overcome adversity. I also do so in faith that rational discussion will lead members of parliament to work for hope and not propagate despair.