Sunday, June 18, 2017

End-of-Life Choice and end of Voluntary Euthanasia Society

A quick AGM yesterday disposed of the name with which most of us have been a little uncomfortable for some time. The word "euthanasia" seems to be a turn-off for a lot of people. So, what used to be the Voluntary Euthanasia Society of New Zealand is now to be known as End-of-Life Choice. With hyphens.
The Committee is the same, the objective is the same, but we have chosen to eliminate an unsatisfactory expression.
Ironically the guest speaker in the afternoon public session. Dr Jan Bernheim, used the word "euthanasia" liberally and without qualification. But his fascinating talk made it clear that Belgium has moved far beyond our sensitivities around the use of the word. And they have certainly moved far beyond our tentative reaching out for some new practice that will express the growing concern for suffering people to have some choice about the ending of their life.
Before 2002 Belgium did not have the highly developed hospice movement that has made such a different to the quality of death for some decades in this country. But when they did address the issue of dealing with the last stages of life they had the opportunity to include a style of what they cheerfully call "euthanasia" along with a wide range of palliative care.
This linking of palliative care with doctor-assisted-death delights me. I've been feeling for some time that the body that is already dedicated to dignity in dying is the body that should embrace the opportunity to carry its objectives out to the full. Hospice, far from railing against physician-assisted-death, should be the organisation that develops a compassionate philosophy of patient choice about life's ending and introduces practical opportunities for that choice to be exercised.
When former Prime Minister John Key said "NZ doesn't need voluntary euthanasia because we have Hospice" he demonstrated a total misunderstanding of both and uttered a forgivable lie. When Hospice says NZ doesn't need any kind of doctor-assisted death, they also are fumbling with the truth. Worse, they are denying their organisation the opportunity to take a great step forward in their own mission of improving the ending of our lives.

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