"Our ultimate goal ... is not a good death but a good life to the very end" Atul Gawande
We live in a time when personal choice is seen as a good thing. And if it is a good thing then surely it should apply to all aspects of our lives, including the end of life? Yet we also know that our choices, almost always, affect other people. And making a choice to take our own life early will, almost always, affect other people profoundly.
Despite this you may think that, in extreme cases, people should still be given the choice of assisted suicide even though it will affect others. There might be a genuine fear of pain and suffering as death approaches. Or family and friends might agree to support a loved one opting for assisted suicide or euthanasia out of love and compassion.
It is important to remember however that there are other ways to show love and compassion apart from assisted suicide or euthanasia. To quote Atul Gawande, "we damage entire societies if we let providing this capability divert us from improving the lives of the ill. Assisted living is far harder than assisted death, but its possibilities are far greater as well."
There are stories which can be told, even here in New Zealand, about people who have found a preciousness and poignancy in allowing others to care for them at the end of life.
The quality of palliative care in New Zealand ranks third highest in the world, meaning that no one need suffer extreme pain during the dying stages of life. Even when the provision of pain relief might shorten a person's life, that is already legal and ethical.
The New Zealand Bill of Rights Act (1990) allows for a high degree of patient choice in this country, including the right to refuse any medical treatment.
The New Zealand Medical Association (representing over 5000 doctors) and the World Medical Association (representing 112 countries) say that the act of deliberately ending the life of a patient, even at the request of a patient or close relatives, is unethical.
Overseas experience has shown that, once a country legalises the choice of assisted suicide or euthanasia for even a few of its citizens in extreme cases, it is inevitable that more and more people will argue for the right to have the same choice on less extreme grounds.
In the end, there is great relief in being free from the burden of choice. So let's not impose that burden on thousands of Kiwis and their families who, if the law was changed, would be required to consider whether or not to actively shorten their lives. Might that choice, made not just once but potentially every day, become its own form of intolerable suffering?
Please consider writing to Parliament in support of our present law which allows for genuine patient choice and autonomy, while protecting the interests of the many who would become vulnerable and at risk if assisted suicide and euthanasia were legalised.