Parliament’s Health Select Committee is undertaking an investigation into ending one’s life in New Zealand. This
came after a petition from Maryann Street and 8974 others asking that, “That the House of Representatives investigate fully public attitudes towards the introduction of legislation which would permit medically assisted dying in the event of a terminal illness or an irreversible condition which makes life unbearable”. The petition asks for a change to existing law.
The inquiry will consider all aspects of the issue, including the social, legal, medical, cultural, financial, ethical, and philosophical implications.
The committee is investigating:
1. The factors that contribute to the desire to end one’s life.
2. The effectiveness of services and support available to those who desire to end their own lives.
3. The attitudes of New Zealanders towards the ending of one’s life and the current legal situation.
4. International experiences. The committee will seek to hear from all interested groups and individuals.
Submissions have been open for several weeks and close on February 1.
New Zealand’s bishops have encouraged Catholics to make submissions as “a concerned individual”. Bishop Patrick Dunn of Auckland said, “it is important that we have a large number of individual submissions”. Group submissions
can also be made.
The chairman of the Health Select Committee is Tamaki MP Simon O’Connor (National). Mr O’Connor is a Catholic who spent the best part of a decade studying for the priesthood with the Society of Mary. He entered Parliament in 2011.
NZ Catholic put some questions about the inquiry to Mr O’Connor.
NZC: How do you feel the Health Committee is handling the End of Life inquiry?
I am very pleased with how the committee is handling this inquiry. We have made good progress so far. We are being very thorough and taking the time that is required. I am pleased that the committee opted for very broad terms of reference, so that the investigation could be wide-ranging. I think there is a lot of value in considering assisted suicide and euthanasia within the wider context of suicide in general. This inquiry is considering why people end their lives and what society thinks about that. Some people think the government should help people take their own lives and others, such as myself, feel we have to do everything possible to ensure no one ever looks at suicide as a solution to a problem.
NZC: You have publicly indicated your personal position on the issue of legalisation of voluntary euthanasia and assisted suicide. You are strongly opposed to such a move. Can you explain why you hold this position?
My view on suicide has been formed over many years of study and experience. It is something I have spent a lot of time examining as part of my studies in philosophy, theology, and ethics. These views have been tested over the years through my past work, which brought me into contact with people who were dying. These experiences have been difficult, but they reaffirmed the importance of the principles I have learned.
Put simply, I do not support the killing of another human being. Suicide is never the answer to a problem.
It is not the solution for a teenager who is being bullied, a farmer losing his farm, a clinically depressed person, or someone with a terminal illness. All human lives have worth, all humans have an innate dignity, and to
suggest that sometimes they don’t is a very disturbing proposition.
NZC: Given your views on voluntary euthanasia and assisted suicide, can you remain impartial as chair of the Health Select Committee’s inquiry?
As chair of the committee, my role is to ensure that a fair and open process is followed. This is something I
can and am rightly doing. In fact, I think it is very clear from the way the investigation has been structured, the
time given to make submissions, the courtesy extended to the petitioners and others, are all indications that the
committee is being chaired in a fair and appropriate way.
Having said that, I would like to stress that being an impartial chair does not necessitate putting aside one’s own views. I think any inquiry is bound to be of a better standard when its members have a keen interest in the subject. Everyone is going to get a chance to be heard through this inquiry. I will agree with some people and disagree with others, but that’s the nature of democracy. There will be a big conversation and we will try to understand the issue better.
NZC: A lot of people have never dealt with a select committee before. Do submissions have to be really long and dense?
Not at all. A submission can be as simple as a statement saying, “I do not support euthanasia or suicide in any form”. Naturally, if someone has more to say, that would be very welcome. The key, I have found, is to make your main points early on and supply further evidence after that. Personal stories are great too as they can help humanise the issue.
I think it is really important for people to make submissions and I certainly encourage everyone to do so. Our parliamentary system works best when people share their thoughts and opinions. When we are discussing topics such as this one — of suicide, life, and death — it becomes even more important.