Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Time For Debate With Dignity

The thing I've always found interesting about the Euthanasia debate, is the way it cuts across both party and ideological lines.

While it's true that the freedom to do as we wish with our own bodies and lives - even to the point of ending them in a moment and in a manner of our choosing - is pretty strongly a liberal notion ... there are not a few individuals from the more conservative end of the spectrum who've also come forward to advocate on behalf of reform in this area.

In fact, the first few serious legislative efforts at securing a progressive law-change on death-with-dignity came from my own party - New Zealand First. Men like Michael Laws and Peter Brown put forward bills in 1995 and 2003 respectively to reform the law - and were defeated by first 61-29, and then the incredibly narrow margin of 59-58.

The Labour Party, meanwhile, has instructed Iain Lees-Galloway to withdraw the Private Member's Bill he'd taken stewardship of on behalf of departed-MP Maryan Street.

Now as applies each of Laws and Brown, you'd hardly call them among the forefront avant-garde of progressive social change. And yet, there they were - advocating on behalf of a decidedly controversial legislative proposal.


In both cases, these men had witnessed somebody close to them go through the agony of a terminal decline; and this motivated them to use their positions in our Legislature to try and do something to help any Kiwi who found themselves in similar circumstances.

That display of *empathy* in regard to policy is something powerful. To my mind, it's quite simply the best justification available for putting forward a proposed law change - particularly a personally- rather than party-driven piece of legislation.

Now, in 2015, the debate has reignited once more.

A lawyer's terminal brain cancer and brave simultaneous legal challenge has provided the catalyst.

I cannot tell you what to think about that particular issue. I know, personally, that I am pro-euthanasia. I say this as an avowed Terry Pratchett fan; and acutely cognoscente that the quote which initially cemented this belief in my mind - something along the lines of "don't think of it as me dying from the disease ... think of it as me taking it out with me" - is something which I can no longer find, and therefore somewhat likely to be the product of my own diseased and decaying mind.

But as much as I may have enjoyed the man's prodigious literary output - and feel myself almost personally aggrieved that there will never be another Discworld for me to sink my teeth into and expand the horizons of the world upon a turtle's shell - I also, and more importantly, recognize that the man was human.

And that to wish him to suffer the frightful specter and spectacle of watching his faculties diminish before his eyes and his intellect to dim day by day, even for the greatest of all possible literary justifications ... would be fundamentally selfish of me.

In the case of somebody suffering from a more intrusive malady such as the bowel cancer which claimed Michael Laws' comrade, Cam Campion MP - it would arguably be almost outright evil.

But you may disagree with me, and that is fair enough too. We are fortunate enough to live in a democratic society in which reasonable men may differ in matters of opinion (particularly as applies social policy); and I have certainly seen in the comments section of this very blog passionate advocates who have drawn upon their own experiences with the terminal illness of a loved one to make the case against assisted suicide.

What I would hope we could ALL agree on, however, is that this issue is one which can be decided by The People; rather than being left to the minds and consciences of the 121 MPs who serve as our surrogates of opinion up in Parliament.

For you see, each time an attempt to secure a referendum on this issue has been blocked, it's effectively been the result of a majority of MPs stating *their* consciences and values are more important than your own.

That becomes a bit of a problem when many MPs appear to be out-of-step with popular opinion on a given issue - with polling at the time of the last serious reform effort, back in 2003, showing 73% of New Zealanders were in favour of reform; a far cry in terms of numbers from the 51% of MPs who voted against Peter Brown's bill the same year.

This discrepancy between public opinion and Parliamentary voting-records is why New Zealand First has long championed a Referendum approach to euthanasia.

Our Party contains many committed advocates on both sides of this debate - and it wouldn't be fair to the good people from either perspective for us to take a formalized position one way or the other.

But one thing we are united on, is our call for this issue to be put to the people.

Because a situation wherein a point of legislative reform takes twenty years to go precisely nowhere, despite ever-escalating polling to the contrary, is not a just nor democratic one.

For this reason and so many others, I look forward to an ongoing debate - with dignity - about this issue.

And hopefully one which conclusively delivers a result - sooner rather than later.

Oh, and one final note.

I've also been requested to note that David Seymour seeking to draft his own Private Member's Bill on the subject is pretty ironic ... given ACT itself is on electoral life-support as it undergoes an agonizing period of drawn out and terminal decline.

Alister, I hope you're happy.

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