by JOHN FONG

Simon O’Connor, MP for Tamaki (National), spoke in Hamilton on December 4 at the Gerry Sullivan Events Centre on euthanasia and on why he is opposed to it and what people can do about the debates that would take place in Parliament.

This was before the first reading of David Seymour’s End of Life Choice Bill. Mr O’Connor had chaired in inquiry by Parliament’s Health Select Committee into ending of life in New Zealand in response to a petition by Maryann Street and others. The select committee’s report was released in the middle of 2017.

The Tamaki MP First, said that we are talking here about doctors killing or directly ending the life of their patients. We are talking about life and death, he said, about doctors sedating their patients and then injecting them with a toxin, such as Nembutal. The effect may take minutes, or it may take days.

The term “physician-assisted suicide” is a misnomer, he added, as doctors do not give medicine (which heals), but a drug that kills.

Mr O’Connor said that first there has to be a discussion about terminology. If we can’t call a spade a spade, then we cannot engage in the discussion accurately and properly. Euphemisms are used such as “ending-of-life choice” or “medically-assisted dying”.

He said the Seymour bill presents a clear and present danger and it needs to be opposed, even if one is not for the concept of euthanasia. It is very, very bad.

In his talk, the term euthanasia was used interchangeably with physician-assisted suicide. Mr O’Connor’s talk was framed by several key points.

First: Religion

You can have religious objections and there’s nothing wrong with that and you can say it. However, it’s not the best way as the secular world is not accepting of people’s religious beliefs and is becoming less tolerant.

Second: Medical Necessity

Doctors, psychologists, and medical associations (bar one) say that we don’t want this, we don’t need it, and we don’t want to be involved.

Doctors’ work is about care. If patients have a headache, you give them Ibuprofen or Panadol. You don’t cut off their head.

This is what will happen if this bill is passed. There will be a very small number of doctors, say 10 or 20, who will make this their sole business. They will travel around the country administering poison. There is no clinical oversight and this is not good clinical practice.

The fundamental principle of medicine is Primum non nocere, i.e. first or above all, do no harm. Going around with a cocktail of poisons is the antithesis of medicine.

Palliative care is amazing and has advanced in leaps and bounds. Sad stories of suffering and pain are from five, 10, or 20 years ago are of current bad palliative care.

Specialists, especially in this area, say, “Fix this system (of palliative care) first – euthanasia is not an adjunct, or addition, or another option”. These specialists are opposed to euthanasia.

Third: Public Safety

In this country, no one dies against their will. If euthanasia is legalised, this option becomes possible – and it may take 10 or 20 years – but it will come. Once the law is passed, it will say, “You now have an opportunity or option” – and so the opportunity is now there.

Already in this country, we have harrowing elder abuse, many instances of which are hidden. This law will lead to violence, psychological and physical. The elderly will feel they are a burden. Someone once said, “Where there’s a will, there’s a relative”. It’s naive to think that all families are loving, caring families. Unfortunately, we are opening up a public-safety issue for the elderly.

Under a euthanasia regime, the disabled will feel vulnerable and are effectively told that their life is not worth living and that they are second-class citizens. It now seems open and acceptable to take the next step.

Is this a question about dignity? “I don’t want to lose my mind, clean myself, lose my ability to feed myself – I have a choice.” In effect, you are saying that you’d rather be dead than be like that person, the disabled. This, then, becomes a public-safety argument. But this is not what a society is about – it’s about being connected to others.

Although the bill says that it is only for the terminally ill (or for those with a grievous and irremediable medical condition), it is about suicide and will flow on to our youth. The message will be that ending one’s life is an acceptable option. Doctors and social workers have stressed that youth contemplating suicide are already feeling depressed (many clinically), abandoned, hopeless, and will not be philosophising about the academic differences between being terminally ill and grievous suffering. This is a vulnerable group we have to consider.

The question really is about attributing value to human life. We have commands such as “You shall not….” Once you legalise exceptions, these exceptions will grow. It’s like going over a slippery cliff. You take precautions against it. But once you go over, you’re gone.

Another point relates to autonomy. Should this law apply only to the terminally ill (or for those a grievous and irremediable medical condition)? Some say: “This is my body and I have a choice. Why should I seek permission to end my life? Don’t you interfere.” So this exception will continue to expand.

This question has also revolved around freedom of speech and freedom to hold another view. There’s a push at the moment to allow only one view and only one opinion. When Mr O’Connor made a point about between youth suicide and euthanasia on his facebook page, he was shouted at, screamed at, abused. The same was the case with the media. No one challenged him and asked why he held such a view? He would have told them that medical experts have said so.

The current bill is insidious, Mr O’Connor continued. When doctors say that you have six months to live, that is only indicative. Doctors get it wrong all the time. Medicine is as much art as science. The message really is to convey that the condition is serious.

The bill talks about safeguards, for example that the patient has to be aged 18 or over, etc. This will inevitably be weakened – in Belgium, children are now euthanised. These “safeguards” are really criteria and criteria can change.

The bill speaks about “unbearable suffering… that he or she considers intolerable”. The question will then become, “What is intolerable?’ This will be what you think and will take the law out of Parliament and into the hands of the judiciary.

If a person is suffering and is aged 17 1/2, he will apply to the courts and ask whether he should have to wait for another six months?  “Safeguards” will change.

Mr O’Connor advised people to be prepared to make a submission to the Justice Select Committee quickly. Submissions close on February 20.

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