Saturday, October 15, 2016

Submissions - and the Debate

Big day yesterday. 

We left home close to 1pm and arrived at the Hearing Venue at 3pm, an hour early, to get the feel of the proceedings. However, very wet weather had obviously disrupted the hearings and I was called nearly an hour early.

The two women Committee Members in our room were gracious and really helpful to some of the less confident submitters. We stayed for an hour or two; and it was fascinating to hear the different points of very personal views. Consistent with the overall submissions, the opinions ran about 2:1 against any law change.

But in a break I had a short chat with a young lady on the other side. I suggested that agreement would never be reached on the issue itself and she realised that she’d never thought about that. She probably wasn't going to change everyone. So she then saw she had to consider whether we should change to law to allow for natural differences exactly because there is no agreement. That's what Choice is about.

The most moving moment was when our room finished and about four of us went into another room just to watch. (The Committee was taking hearings in three separate rooms—250 five-minute submitters between 9am and 6pm!). One lady broke down before she could begin her talk and another one from our room went and sat beside her and held her hand. What neither realised at that moment was that the supporter was on the other side of the issue...

Apparently that spirit did not always prevail. One or two people felt that their reception among the audience was a bit hostile. One person at least happened to be in a situation where her voice was the only one on her side and she felt distinctly discouraged. Some of this could have been prevented if everyone had been given more notice of the hearings (mine was only four days!) so that supporters could have attended.

But on the whole, this experience of democracy in action was satisfying. I pay tribute to the MPs who sat throughout this long day and still had to disperse around the country to their homes afterwards. Probably they learned nothing they didn’t know already, but they paid respectful and sympathetic attention to everyone who had asked to make a personal impression.

It was a little anticlimactic to join a few dozen people at the Community of St Luke in Remuera in the evening. They offered a debate between Hon David Seymour, the promoter of the bill that is sitting in Parliament’s Ballot Box and Matthew Jansen, the Secretary of the Care Alliance. Between them was not much agreement, as might have been expected, but also, a wide range of conflicting statistics from the same countries.

And there was an astonishing claim that “If you can give me the name of one doctor who has hastened the death of a patient (“murdered” was the word used) I will go to the nearest Police Station and have him (sic) charged”. I could have given him names of two or three compassionate and practical medicos and someone else said she could name four. But considering 11.2% of NZ doctors admitted in a survey last year that they had taken just such steps, the ridiculous offer was just grandstanding and illustrated only the lengths to which one can when one’s case seems threatened.

Again, the evening produced nothing new. We’ve heard both sides of it all before. Parliament just needs to make a decision. Our best hope is for David Seymour’s bill to pop up out of the Ballot Box. I suspect that the Committee will produce a huge report but no firm strategy for Parliament.

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