Friday, December 14, 2018

A conscience vote?

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It's been interesting for me to note that half a dozen NZ parliamentarians and candidates at a semi-public meeting all announced that their intention for the End of Life Choice Bill was to vote "according to the wishes of my electorate".

It was as though a "conscience" vote was something they were not prepared to make. I suggested to our local MP (who was at the time "undecided")  that I would rather have his vote "in good conscience" against the Bill than have him go into the debate still vacillating.

But, actually, I didn't think too much about the issues. A "conscience" vote is note just a vote for one's own personal opinions and beliefs. For instance, We saw many MPs vote for the First Reading of the Bill although their personal inclinations were against it. They were taking the attitude that at least the Bill deserved a thorough hearing from a competent Committee before being thrown out by Parliament. That was a responsible act and I told my MP so.

When the next Readings of the Bill come along I would like to see a few MPs paying less attention to their own views than to the good of the country as a whole. I hope that some swinging MPs and even some who have decided to oppose the Bill might, in conscience, pay enough attention to the negative aspects of end of life as it is for many people at present that they might even vote for the Bill against their personal convictions. I'd like them to say "I do not want the personal choice of a different end of life for myself" but my "conscience" tells me I should vote for the Bill to give others the choice.

So personal views and opinions are not the whole of a "conscience" vote. It must also include consideration of more issues than just personal ones. It must include the understanding that the conscience of an MP has to do with making decisions for the good of the greatest number of the population. Even against one's own personal beliefs.

When this Bill comes back to the House MPs will be free to vote according to their consciences. Hopefully, the consciences of some will remind them they are voting for the whole population, not just the promotion of their own beliefs.

Monday, December 10, 2018

Rodney Voters - Where were You?

A few months ago, New Zealanders polled about 75% in favour of a change in the law so that a suffering, dying patient could ask for medical help to shorten one's last days. By far the larger proportion of the NZ population appear to want to have personal Choice at the end.

However, when the Justice Committee of Parliament called for submissions on the End of Choice Bill that would make this possible, some 85% of "submissions" were opposed to any change in the law. Some members of the Justice Committee such as Maggie Barry believe that is the correct figure for the whole population. Again and again she has that declared 85% of NZ is against any change.
Rodney friends: did you offer your views, even to a very brief  note: "I am in favour of the proposed Bill"

When Mark Mitchell called a public meeting to debate the issues in our electorate there was an informal vote taken on the principle. The Bill was marginally defeated on the numbers attending. This has been pretty common in such meetings throughout the country.  Some politicians could take this to mean that more than half of us in their electorates do not want change!
Rodney sympathisers, how many of you were there that night? How many feel that vote was meaningful?

When I've made the fairly obvious point that the opposition by submitters and attenders did not seem to represent the mind of the community as a whole, I've been told that Parliament has to listen to the groups who make the strongest case.
Rodney voters, do you think Government should legislate mainly for the group that shouts the loudest or writes the largest number of one-line submissions?

I don't think so. I am disappointed that so many of us who would like to see a change in the present law simply did not get off our bums to prepare submissions and show an interest in meetings. We just can't be bothered.

Well, friends, we can still write and talk to our MPs. At the end of the day every MP will have to vote on this issue. As a good electorate MP ours is always open to comments from Rodney voters.

If ever there was a time to write or say something to your MP, it is now.

Mark is at:   or

The Embarrassing Church

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I see that Auckland City Council, in reviewing its property rates is moving toward extending the concessions granted to churches and other religious groups.
I've said for years that people who have chosen to build a worship building should not expect to receive rates concessions for ever. I cannot see any reason why the state should give members of a religious persuasion this special concession.
But I was clearly against the trend. The ACC has been importuned by some denominations and individuals and is apparently proposing to extend rate-free privileges to a whole range of church properties that are not used only for worship, including properties let for financial reward, for fund-raising and even, would you believe,  the residences of church ministers.
This kind of subsidy of religion by the state leaves me very uncomfortable. I hope that the shouts of glee among Methodist Treasurers will be pretty subdued. Indeed, I challenge them to put this unexpected windfall in their accounts back into increased service of the disadvantaged in our communities.

Friday, December 7, 2018

It's been interesting to me that MP Maggie Barry has come under scrutiny for alleged bullying of her staff.
When I complained about her savagely biased attitude as deputy Chair of the Government's Committee on Justice such further accusations were not in my mind. But I am impressed that others have made the link between her bias and her general attitude, notably Graham Adams in Noted a day or two ago. His full article is really worth a quick read.
On reflection it's quite easy to recognise that her impolite treatment of the two lady submitters who preceded me back in July was not merely biassed but also much stronger and more deliberate that the occasion demanded. I think it's quite likely that they both felt bullied.
Well, the Committee has finished hearing submitters and it will be interesting to see if they have learned anything that was not already reported exhaustively and recorded by its predecessor. We all know how Maggie will vote. But will the Committee stand up to her forcibly expressed opinion?
Perhaps they should invite her to have a cup of tea...

(Regular readers of my blog will recall the incident recorded at the end of my post of 29 June)

Thursday, November 22, 2018

A Genuine Poll

For some months I have been having a (almost) one-way correspondence with my electorate MP on how he intends to gauge the :mind of the electorate on the matter of the End of Life Choice Bill.
I have urged him to exercise a proper conscience vote (even if I don't get the answer I want) rather than to pussyfoot around with taking a snap vote at a public debate attended mainly by a few enthusiastic supporters of the Bill and a large rent-a-crowd of people press-ganged by churches and other "anti" organisations.
Mark has, of course, been heavily involved in the National Party crises of recent weeks but at last we are to sit down together on Monday. So we will spend some time on how he can reasonably detect an accurate feeling from the electorate.
In a rash moment some months ago, I offered to  pay half the cost  of a professionally organised poll of the electorate. Now, I have just heard, Minister Stuart Nash has announced just such a poll for his electorate. This is something concrete for me to put on the table on Monday. I hope that we can set up something like this and that other electorates will follow this excellent example.
It's of relevance that last night we toured down to Northcote for their debate. Only two speakers this time, but no new arguments. A show of hands showed the meeting was about 50-50. But on the voting form we at least had to say if we were in the electorate - so our votes didn't count.
I still think it would be a travesty of the democratic system of last night's vote were taken as a genuine expression of the wishes of the electorate. I hope I can persuade Mark to do something better for Rodney electorate when we talk on Monday

Thursday, November 15, 2018

The regular newsletter of End-of-Life Choice has appeared and I note some fascinating quotations:  Among them is a letter to Catholic Bishop Christopher Prowse from the Chair of Christians Supporting Choice for Voluntary Euthanasia (Australia).
Ian Wood doesn't pussyfoot around the issues. I have his permission to reproduce the EOLC quote from his letter to Bishop Prowse:"

"Evidence recently given by countless victims of Catholic paedophile priests clearly show the abyss and total lack of understanding by the Catholic Church for the suffering endured by those victims. Many of these victims went on to take their own lives in dreadful circumstances - in a cruel irony compared with the Church position on voluntary assisted dying.
I certainly do not write in the hope of changing your mind on this issue. By all means feel free to endure whatever suffering comes your way in your end of life, but I do pray and urge you not to use your position to force me and every other Australian to do the same."
Ian Wood 
National Co-ordinator, 
Christians Supporting Choice for Voluntary Euthanasia, Australia

Ian's letter may be a model for a way for us to challenge our MPs  on the issue.
Also, in another post, 29 August I suggested that the Catholics might well be a bit reticent about volunteering their moral theology on the rest of us in the light of their current worldwide reputation in another area of moral consideration.

End-of-Life Questions

I’m not sure if I should roll up to an electorate meeting on the End of Life Choice Bill tonight — it’s not my electorate and I am already a bit cross that anti-Bill protestors attend meetings all over the place and distort the vote that is usually taken at these events.

But if I go—and can pluck up the courage!—I’d like to ask a couple of questions of each candidate:—
(I am 84, have advanced metastatic spinal compression prostate cancer. I have no other life-threatening issues but I do have a history of undiagnosed and untreated tetany spasms after one surgery. If this cancer is allowed to take its course I can expect significant paralysis, double incontinence and a prolonged, undignified, painful death, possibly without adequate relief of suffering. I don’t actually want that, so—)

1.       Are you personally satisfied with the present law that says it is not a crime if I decide to take my own life rather than let my disease take its course? Yes or No.

2.       Are you then personally comfortable with my reality that if this Bill is not put into law quite soon I may plan to end my life now while I can still manage to drive my car into a bridge abutment or can shut myself up in our garage with the engine running (oh, damn, that won’t work—our car is all-electric!) or get to town to buy a party kit and figure out how to make that do what it was never designed for?

Monday, November 12, 2018

Remembering the War or Promoting the Peace?

Bev and I went to Auckland Domain today and walked a lot of the memorial ground where the 18,000 crosses are set up. It was a sober, thoughtful time for us and for the many who were doing the same thing.
As it happened, we located the crosses for Bev's uncles, one of whom lied about his age. But both were far too young... It was a bit special to find them.
But I have been challenged today by Ian Harris's column "Faith and Reason" in the Otago Daily Times three days ago. 
"A hundred years on, it’s time to lay World War 1 to rest and focus forward on constructing the peace," suggests Ian.  "Now it is surely time to lay that war to rest and refocus our vision and our energy on the subtler challenge of building a truly just and lasting peace."
Thank you, Ian. I needed that reminder...

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Gaia - again

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I see that Lovelock's Gaia hypothesis is "in the air" again. In 1972 I themed a whole church service around what was then a relatively unknown concept that would predict the coming of the global conditions we are experiencing today. (I think I even pronounced a benediction in the name of Gaia!)

What struck me then, was that the environmental balance in the planet's atmosphere  might collapse quite suddenly. The greenhouse gasses might not gradually reduce the availability of oxygen but could overcome it all at once. Remember the Rotorua Lakes a few years ago - they didn't gradually turn foul, the whole system crashed virtually overnight.

It may be wildly optimistic that we can stand by and measure the gradual deterioration of the quality of our environment and then - when things seems to have got really serious - proceed to take steps to correct the situation. We may be headed for a sudden and catastrophic failure of the planet's vulnerable system.

Heresy in the United Church of Canada

As I write, Gretta Vosper, a minister of the United Church of Canada, is in the second day of a trial for heresy.

More than two years ago the Church found her “unsuitable” for ministry but her congregation has continued to stand steadfastly behind her ministry. Now the hierarchy is conducting a formal trial of heresy which could deny her access to all pulpits in the UCC and sister denominations. If the charge of heresy is not proved during this formal Church hearing, the denomination can then press the matter in the Civil courts. 

Those of us who have been lucky enough to hear her would say: Yes, Gretta is not at all a conventional believer; yes, she happened to be ordained at a quirky moment in the 1990s when the UCC’s ordination procedures did not require her to answer specific questions of personal belief; yes, her congregation rarely hears the name of God mentioned in worship.

But the support of her people is overwhelming and the UCC widely claims to be inclusive and flexible in matters of personal faith. Furthermore, all round the world there are individuals and groups who have been grateful for the opportunity to have their thinking stimulated by her sharp mind and engaging personality.

I have long held the view that all the signs around us are that the Creator must have a sense of humour, if often mixed in with profound sadness over the wreckage we are making of our planet.

Right now I think God must be laughing out loud. 

PS  (Next day)  God's laughter must have been short-lived because a few hours after I wrote the above, Gretta and the Church issued a joint statement that all matters of difference between them are now resolved. She will be celebrating with West Hills United Church next Sunday. 
UCC has always considered itself to accept wide divergences in belief and practice but this settlement must be surely herald a new era for the Church. Other denominations, please note.