Sunday, January 31, 2016
"Ask someone else, Simon!"
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.