Saturday, February 21, 2015

Make up your minds, parliamentarians!

Just back from the Auckland lecture by Dr Rob Jonquiere on the legalised regime for voluntary euthanasia in the Netherlands. What a breath of fresh air!
Quietly spoken but passionate, clear but deeply knowledgeable, he led us through the different cultural and legal contexts and explained the essential elements in the Dutch law and practice.
Euthanasia is still a crime on the statute books. But there is a specific exemption around a set of key criteria:  patient request in relation to "unbearable pain", and physician cooperation in the light of a "hopeless" condition. The process is enshrined in careful consultations and enjoys a thorough review mechanism.
In particular, Dr Rob drew attention to their emphasis on "ending suffering" rather than "ending life because of terminal illness" as was recently proposed for New Zealand.
So far, no Parliamentarian has agreed to hold up the flag for even this very basic proposal. The government of the day is clearly too conservative. The opposition prefers to concentrate on "the economy" rather than the plight of those suffering in terminal illness.
The stance on both sides of the House is profoundly ironic: my local hospice is canvassing for donations to pay up to $1000 a treatment for patients with unbearable pain. They have to beg in this way because this drug is not funded by Pharmac.
Make up your minds, parliamentarians:  either authorise additional funding to ease the suffering of those who are trapped in pain because of your misplaced sense of priorities or get a re-drafted End of Life Choice Bill into discussion with some urgency.

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