In blog

Labour MP Maryan Street.

Cross posted from

Nathaniel Centre director and euthanasia opponent John Kleinsman has hit back at Maryan Street’s euthanasia bill during a debate tonight.

Both were among speakers at an open forum at the Dunedin Public Hospital tonight titled euthanasia and assisted suicide: A discussion we need to have.

Labour MP Street delivered details of a private member’s bill to legalise end of life options she was supporting on behalf of a Nelson group. She said she thrashed the issues out with a couple of Nelson preachers before deciding to sponsor the bill on behalf of a Nelson group of euthanasia advocates, because the debate shoud be religious as well as secular.

The bill aimed to provide end-of-life choices for people with terminal illness and irrecoverable conditions which make life impossible, Street said. She emphasised the inclusion of protections within the proposed legislations for those wanting to die and those involved in the process.

The patient had to be of sound mind when making the choice and protected from coercion. This would be attested by doctors. There was also protection against the decision being overturned if the person was later unable to express their view.

“Similarly there must be protection against criminal liability-protection for family members who are asked, like Sean (Davidson) to do the unthinkable.”

People who had lived autonomous lives should also be allowed to be autonomous during the end of their lives, she said.

“It’s a matter of human rights.”

Wellington-based Kleinsman, director of his organisation’s Nathaniel Centre, slammed Street’s ideas for protections.

“I don’t think there is any law that can adequately protect against the risks. In fact the law would remove the most protective barrier,” he told a full house at the hospital’s Colquhoun Lecture Theatre.

He launched a scathing attack on the Government’s inadequate funding of palliative care,  saying it was driving people to assisted suicide.

If people could be assured of death without agony the voluntary euthanasia debate would be redundant, he said.

“Until every New Zealander has access to high quality palliative care I think it’s unethical to introduce euthanasia. Choosing to die can never be fully voluntary in a society that doesn’t provide palliative care options.”

Kleinsman also criticised rest home care, saying rest homes needed to “lift their game”.

Other considerations in the debate included societal changes such as the increase in elder abuse, and families living long distances from elderly or disabled relatives who believed they were a burden which encouraged life-ending decisions.

The proposed legislation also presented a message that people who were ill or disabled were somehow worthy of less respect.

“The message is subtle but powerful.

“Relaxing the law is fraught with possibilities for abuse. The right to die would very quickly become a duty to die.”

The forum was held on the eve of the departure from New Zealand of Professor Sean Davidson, the Dunedin man last year convicted for the assisted suicide of his mother Patricia. Relased from home detention this week, Davidson is heading back to his family in South Africa.

He outlined his experience at the forum, as well as his support for assisted suicide, to resounding applause.

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