Dusty Roads

A Kiwi living in the new Zimbabwe

A good society

August 5, 2017

If you are looking for some light reading over the weekend I have a suggestion.

Buried deep within the websites of various news media outlets this week I found a shockingly easy-to-read, terrifyingly informative 50-page report by the Health Committee.

I know, it sounds suspicious. Government reports aren’t easy to read, and they are certainly not very informative most of the time.

Somehow, though, this one is. Perhaps it is to do with the subject matter. You see, the report is on euthanasia laws.

Yes, this week the results of a two-year long investigation, involving a record-smashing 21,000 submissions, 108 hours of oral submissions, and testimony from experts and citizens from faraway lands, landed.

Unfortunately, it landed on the same day that new Labour leader Jacinda Ardern was asked about her baby plans. Obviously, that little scuffle was more important than the most significant potential law change facing New Zealanders in years, so the most significant document relating to that most significant potential law change was buried.

Buried under layers, and layers of opinion.

Anyway. The main bit to know is that the Health Committee made no recommendation. It did not recommend in favour, nor did it recommend against, a law change.

The other main bit to know is that 80 per cent of those who submitted were opposed to euthanasia laws being introduced.

But the real juice was in between all of that. It was in the fact that New Zealander’s clearly wore their hearts on their sleeves for this Committee.

There were those who came to talk about their experiences of family suicide, the suffering and death of loved ones, or their own illness or disability. There were plenty of experts from medical groups, palliative care groups, and mental health groups. They shared their thoughts, and also their hearts, on how euthanasia laws would impact their patients and themselves.

The interesting bit, perhaps, was that the reasons Kiwis oppose euthanasia laws were far more diverse and emotional than I realised. Take, for example, those who spoke up saying they were concerned for members of the ” LGBTIQ community, where legally assisted dying might be seen as incongruous with anti-suicide campaigns.” Or, take those who spoke about their own experiences of depression and concerns that euthanasia would have seemed like a good idea at the time.

Euthanasia’s current champion, ACT leader David Seymour, has tried to downplay all the opposition by hinting that the Catholics conspired to tilt the inquiry process. But I have to say, it is rather impossible to hold that view after reading the full document. There are simply too many reasons, with too much humanity in them, to think that opposition to euthanasia laws is mostly institutional.

And that brings me to another point about the report. It is quite fascinating to see all of the arguments for, and against, euthanasia laws laid out right next to each other with international evidence thrown in. You can’t help feeling that compassion belongs to both sides of the argument. But you also can’t help noticing that the arguments basically boiled down to individual rights versus the collective good.

It seems to me that on the one side are people who basically believe that a few mistakes (read: people euthanased against their will) are a fair price to pay for the right to death. On the other side are those who think protecting a few lives is a justifiable reason for foregoing a right.

And that, of course, reveals the question we all must ask ourselves. Which do we value more, rights or lives? Which laws, ultimately, will give us a good, and compassionate, society?

So, if you haven’t already, go and listen to other Kiwis by reading that report. The question is far too important to answer on our own.

This article was first published on Stuff.co.nz

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Step off the sidelines

June 17, 2017

The euthanasia debate is back on and if there is one thing we can’t afford to do, it is to sit on the sidelines.

What I mean by that, of course, is wriggling out of the debate by saying “oh, I’m not sure what I would do personally, but I guess if others wanna do it it’s up to them”.

I have heard that line probably more than any other in the discussions I’ve had about euthanasia. Many of us feel a bit icky about the idea, and yet think that we have no right to interfere if others want to be euthanased.

It’s their choice, after all, isn’t it? And who are we to get in between another human being and what they want?

Aside from the fact that it defeats the point of a democratic society, there is another problem to deal with.

We interfere with individual freedom all the time. And we do it because we believe that individual freedom has to be balanced against a thing called the “social good”, which means “what is best for the rest of us”.

We do not give individuals the freedom to take anything they see and happen to like. We call that stealing and it is a crime. We do not give individuals the freedom to have sex with whoever they would like, whenever they would like. We call that rape, or incest, or abuse depending on the situation. And they are crimes.

And at present we do not give anyone the right to kill, or help to kill, someone. We call that murder. And it is a crime.

Any change to murder laws, and you and I ought to be on high alert. We ought to be looking very carefully at what is changing, and why.

We ought to be looking at what has happened overseas, we ought to especially be looking at the risks involved, but most of all we ought to be looking at who loses out with such laws. After all, for every social change we make there are people who benefit and people who are harmed.

In this case, harm means murder. And that is very serious because once we are dead, we cannot come back.

So if euthanasia laws do result in some people being harmed, saying that we personally feel a bit unsure but we’re happy to let others do what they please is a little like saying we’re not sure about slavery laws, but we’re happy to let others do as they please.

It is unethical, because our silence creates victims.

On the other hand, if your reading makes you certain such laws are what is best for our society, why would you want to stay silent? Surely, we should all speak up for what is good, right and best for all of us.

It is no secret I believe that euthanasia laws absolutely will create victims. That is to say, based on the evidence from overseas, safeguards like consent, age restrictions and illness restrictions will gradually be eroded. And of course, a law without safeguards is by definition not safe.

That matters to me because I have a vested interest in the future. I have a little boy whom these laws will affect in one way or another. And that is the point. We are all connected, and our actions do impact other people, as much as we like to imagine that they don’t.

So we can all keep pretending ethics are personal opinion, but the fact remains that the victims of bad laws are real.

That alone should be enough to convince us that the sidelines are not an option in a debate about death.

This article was first published on Stuff.co.nz