Sunday, January 31, 2016

"Ask someone else, Simon!"

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Some people who are involved in the voluntary euthanasia debate are expressing some concern that Simon O'Connor, Chair of the Select Committee that is investigating what the NZ Catholic is calling "ending one's life in NZ" is not only declaring himself an outright opponent of any change in the law but is also encouraging people (who presumably agree with him) to make submissions to his Committee.

O'Connor's fairly persistent use of the unfortunate term "suicide" rather than such a term as "physician assisted death" puts a lot of emotive power into his argument. But it does not seem to leave room for the possibility that the compassionate ending of a life may be, in certain circumstances, the ultimate in palliative care.

Nor does his declared position seem to take account of the number deaths that is brought about without the volition of the patient but that are responsibly judged to be appropriate under particular circumstances. As I have argued in my submission, such deaths may need to be themselves reviewed if Simon O'Connor's position is to be consistently upheld.

I understand that he has claimed that his impartiality on the issue is demonstrated in the deliberate way in which the Committee is working. But I am tempted to wonder if there is not a difference between the impartiality of doing and the impartiality of being. I hope the latter quality will be strongly in evidence as the Committee works through its listening brief.

Of course, any member of such a committee will bring his or her own personal opinions to the task. The possibility of a Parliamentary Committee of completely unbiased opinion on any matter at all is not concievable. But it seems to be more sensitive to the democratic principle (which he himself espouses) if personal opinions are not strongly promoted in public.

This would seem to be particularly important in the case of the Chairperson. There is a tradition of impartiality in the role of chairing a debate and it is not usual for anyone exercising this role to participate in the discussion. Even if he manages to avoid expressing his opinion in the discussion, it would seem invidious for O'Connor to find himself in the position of signing off the Committee's report should it not come out with support for his point of view.

In view of the growing lack of public confidence in his role I think that perhaps it would lend some dignity to the situation if O'Connor were to invite another Committee member to act as Chair during the deliberations on this particular issue. That would clarify his right to speak out about his personal view and act as a "witness" as well as a "judge". And it would also diffuse the aura of doubt that now surrounds his role and must affect the whole Committee and its proceedings.

A Plea for Clarity in Communication

Our worship bulletin this morning told us that the submission of the Interchurch Bioethics Council is "in line with" recent discussions in the Methodist Faith and Order Committee. Really?

The ICBC has come down firmly against any change in the law. It is uncompromising and conservative in the extreme. Certainly, it acknowledges that "not all" members of the three denominations would agree with their position. But it states this qualification in a clumsy way that implies that most of them, in fact, would agree. This submission has never been presented to a Methodist District Synod, nor to the Methodist Conference for consideration and approval.  It can only represent the mind of its small membership.

On the other hand, the Faith and Order Committee has produced a report that in some 3000 words deals comprehensively with the issues on both sides of the debate. With a supplement of creative questions it invites people to get into discussion on the issues. It is an excellent example of the kind of thorough thinking that is needed in this debate. It does not even hint that there is a favoured Methodist position one side or the other.

To imply that the F&O report is in sympathy with the hard line taken by the ICBC is most unfortunate (I nearly said outrageous). This unhappy affair underlines the need to explore all the issues, to listen to each other, to be careful with the words we use. And, at the end of the process, to acknowledge that we will have to find some kind of consensus...

Friday, January 29, 2016

Please let us have the choice!

All week we've been watching to see if my story, as prepared by Katie Kenny, has come up in their comprehensive coverage of the euthanasia debate. With submission closing date only two or three days away we were keen to see if my piece would be there.
Well, of course, their video and photographs were done only two days ago, so we were expecting a bit much. And then yesterday, when the piece went live, we were having an extended country drive out to South Kaipara Head.
But we can see it now, and apart from the photos (don't we all hate our own photos?) I am pretty satisfied with the way Katie wrote up my words. And their little video came out pretty well except for my flapping hands being in shot.
My own video has gone over 500 views in the few days it's been up...  For a pretty serious subject, that's encouraging. But I will have to think about changing the ending of it after 1st Feb...

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Hotting up!

The voluntary euthanasia debate is alive and well this week.

With only a couple of days before submissions close, there's plenty of material in the news media.
There are many attempts at presenting the different sides of the central argument. And plenty of personal experiences being shared. We cannot avoid being aware that a fairly important issue is being opened up for public scrutiny.

But for all the diligent work by researchers and reporters, there's nothing very new out there. When I first started writing my submission some months ago, I was only too aware that the arguments on both sides were already well laid out. Since then, nothing much has changed. But it may be more evident than ever that for most of us, the issues centre around beliefs or faith or personal values rather than any objective measures of things such as "quality of life" or "good death" and so on.

A surprise for me is that my own modest video contribution has been viewed several hundred times. I didn't set out to discuss the situation as if I could convince people of the logic of my position. I just wanted to share my feelings about the situation I might find myself in some time in the future. And I'm grateful for all who shared it with others to give it such wide coverage.  And to those who have let me know that they have made a submission as a result of watching my story.

In a few days I will have to change it or take it down, as it quite specifically encourages people to get submissions in by next Monday 1st Feb. And I'd really like my next venture into YouTube to have a much less serious note... There are some funny stories, even around these most depressing of subjects, and we have to keep sharing them, too...


Monday, January 25, 2016

Great death, Mum!

My mother, Nell Mullan, died just 21 years ago last week, about a year or so older than I am now. I think 25 Jan was the date of the funeral and that was a great occasion.
But what happened a few days earlier is what sticks in my mind. Mum had been admitted to the local hospital with serious inflammation and infection in most of her vital organs. Being determined not to finish her days in hospital because of the bad experiences for her mother and two aunts, she had delayed seeking help until she collapsed on the floor.
Transferred to the regional hospital, she was given very good treatment and in a few days her major infections were virtually cleared up, But to be sent home only to later have another episode involving a return to hospital was her worst fear. She gained Dad's permission to give up.
She refused further medication and said she would not eat.
We knew what it meant. We would have to settle down for a somewhat drawn-out resolution. Bev and I drove six hours home that night but next morning received a phone call saying Mum had died. She just made up her mind and died.
I should hope to be able to do the same when the inevitable is staring me in the face - with or without the suffering associated with cancer. But I don't have the power of her mind. I guess I hope that Parliament will one day give me the choice of another option...
That's why I have made a substantial submission to the Parliamentary Committee on Health concerning the case for some personal choice at end of life.
That's why I have made my own situation a little more public.
That's why I encourage everyone with thoughts or experiences on the subject to share them with the Committee before 1st Feb.
This is our last chance to have this debate for years or even decades.

Friday, January 22, 2016

What are the Odds?

I note that the InterChurch Bioethics Committee has finished its submission and confirmed that it will not support any change in the law to permit some form of assisted dying. That's a disappointment but hardly surprising; they signalled this view some months ago. One is tempted to guess that the fairly wide range of denominational representation and the emphasis on medicos and traditional theologians may have blunted their approach to the issue.

However, I guess I'd hoped for a more conciliatory participation in a debate rather than a closing of the door to on a changing world.

70-80% of the population have polled for change, but with Parliament and the Churches both determined that nothing will change, and the Committee chairman an avowed opponent of any change, the odds seem to be stacked against the cause.

Just the same, let's keep those submissions rolling in. Last day is 1st Feb. Here's a way to do it:

To:  Parliamentary Health Select Committee currently investigating the Maryan Street Petition (and 8974 others) on Medically Assisted Dying for the terminally ill or those with an irreversible condition making life unbearable.
   ·        Your name and any relevant details about yourself
·        Contact addresses etc
·        The nature of your submission:  for or against etc
·        Any relevant personal experience
·        What you want the committee to decide
·        If it’s more than a page or two, they’d appreciate a summary at the beginning or the end.
·        State if you wish to appear before the Committee

You can do it on-line, or email it to or print out two copies and post it to
Committee Secretariat, Health, Parliament Buildings, Wellington

Getting Personal

Having been invited to contribute a piece on my concern about Physician Assisted Dying to the public news media in the last week before submissions closed, I took my courage in both hands, dug out my old tape-based video camera and put this little video up at

It's been viewed quite a few times and has been shared around several networks already. But what matters to me is that several people have emailed me saying they will now do a submission. I'm grateful that this personal approach has helped to focus the issues for some friends.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Thirteen Days to Go...

As part of preparing my submission on Physician Assisted Dying, I have spoken to quite a few people. (Not too many around here, I guess. I am in a residential village of some 350 people, some of whom might find any discussion a little sensitive....)

However, those I have talked to are almost unanimously enthusiastic about some relaxation of our present laws around assisted suicide in particular situations. When you get to our age, you are only too aware of the distressing nature of the final passage of life for a few people. And you probably have an enhanced sense of compassion for others who are going through what you may have to experience yourself some day. So many of us, who have no wish to end our lives right now, would like to have some kind of choice should our situation become unbearable and our pain unrelievable.

The disappointing thing is that hardly anyone I have spoken to intended to make a submission and offer their views. About a dozen asked to be associated with my submission and their names have gone forward. A small number of others have told me that have made submissions. But most seem to be leaving it to everyone else.

Even more disappointing is that the minority of New Zealanders who are really against any change in the law seem to be much better organised than those who have stuck their heads up above the parapet and called for change. On the Committee's website, you can see a lot of submissions that are as simple as "I am against any change in the laws about dying".

While I don't mind if others put up "I am in favour of assisted dying", neither is really a submission. Statements of this kind are really just opinions and the opinion polls have already declared that the majority of us want some change.

I hope that these last two weeks will see an increase in thoughtful, considered offerings, including examples from personal experience, so that the Committee will get a sense of the depth of thinking of the country rather than just a counting of heads "for" and "against". This is not a time for shouting loudly or for rallying mere numbers to the cause. It's a time for doing some deep recollection of our own experiences and some sound thinking around our understanding of the mystery that is life and the inevitability that is dying.

And then we need to pass our thoughts on to the Committee. 

Here's the simple procedure that Parliament uses.
Guidance on how to make a submission is here.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Awkward relationship?

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I see that Matthew Jansen, of the Care Alliance is raising again the "suicide pill for everyone under 70" argument against any consideration of physician assisted dying.

I am disturbed not so much at the repeated misrepresentation of the issues as the report that the Salvation Army is associated with this kind of statement. The Army is apparently part of the Care Alliance.

I appreciate that in matters of conscience of this magnitude one cannot always pick one's supporters or partners.  Goodness knows, I have found myself with some strange bedfellows on some protests over the years.  But I wonder if the Army might like to dissociate themselves from the argument about the suicide pill...?