Want to make a submission to the Health Select Committee on the investigation into ending one’s life in New Zealand, but not sure where to start? Carolyn Moynihan, a journalist who supports the work of NZHPA, has written this excellent submission:
8 November 2015
Submission on: The investigation into ending one’s life in NZ
To: The Health Select Committee
From: Carolyn Moynihan
I wish to make the following general comments:
I oppose euthanasia in any form because it devalues human life and sends an offensive and dangerous message to people who are old and frail, terminally ill, severely disabled, mentally ill or even simply depressed.
People suffering from such causes who say they want to end their life do not need a law that tells them, “Your life is not worth living.”
They need respect for their intrinsic human dignity; family and other compassionate support; better care, access to a hospice, support for their carers, and better diagnosis of depression.
As a society we need to send a clear message that illness, disability, dementia and dependence DO NOT LESSEN IN ANY WAY A PERSON’S DIGNITY. Suffering is part of everyone’s life and calls on us to respond with love and support.
Term of Reference 3 – My attitude to ending one’s life; the current legal situation
The laws against killing and complicity in suicide should stay as they are.
There is a social commitment to prevention of suicide that would be seriously undermined by permitting euthanasia and assisted suicide.
Vulnerable groups of people – those suffering from dementia, psychiatric patients, those without family support – could easily despair or succumb to more or less subtle pressure to end their lives. There is plenty of evidence that this is happening in The Netherlands and Belgium.
Next of kin may sometimes be the ones to apply pressure – for financial reasons, or because they are weary of looking after someone, or because they are unsupported themselves.
The medical and nursing professions exist (and are funded by the whole of society) to preserve and support life. Allowing these health professionals to practice euthanasia would undermine trust in them and the whole healthcare system.
This would also, in the long run, create pressure on doctors to provide this “assistance”.
Acceptance of euthanasia would undermine hospice and palliative care. The cost-effectiveness of ending lives cannot be ignored as a political/economic motive in an ageing society.
I believe some of the public are misled by surveys of health professionals, media stories and the wording of some polls into thinking that the withdrawal of futile or burdensome treatment, or the administration of pain relief that may have the unintended effect of ending a person’s life, amounts to evidence that doctors “are already doing it”.
Some doctors may be intentionally ending lives, but if people are properly informed, they can appreciate the difference between the intentional ending of a patient’s life and the administering of a drug to achieve effective pain relief that may result in a patient’s death as an unintended consequence of having the drug.
Term of Reference 2: Effectiveness of services and support…
I have shared the care of two family members at the end of their lives, and accompanied a relation dying from cancer. We had good support at home, but were dissatisfied with our experience of geriatric hospital care.
A) My mother died at the age of 94 after nearly three years of being totally dependent, due to dementia and stroke. My sister and I, with some publically funded assistance, provided nursing care for her at home during that time. She was able to take some fluids and nutrition up until the night she died peacefully in her sleep.
I received a domestic purposes benefit for a couple of years. This, together with some daytime and night time help, enabled us to provide good, loving care, for a period of time that was not overly burdensome.
Take away point:
Families should be encouraged along this path with even better public assistance in the form of relief care at home.
B) My eldest sister, who suffered from Parkinson’s disease most of her life, died at the age of 78 after years of increasing physical disability and, latterly, dementia. She spent six years in geriatric hospital care, during which time we (her sisters) visited her daily to help with her care and feeding, and the final 8 months of her life she was cared for at home.
In the final week or so of her life, when she could not take food or fluids, she received visits from a hospice nurse and we were provided with some morphine to relieve any pain or distress. She passed away gradually without any apparent distress.
C) A nephew died aged 50 from melanoma, after receiving excellent hospice care. The most distress he seemed to suffer was from over-medication at certain points. During visits over a period of two months I never heard anyone calling out, let alone “screaming in pain” as some people in letters to the editor allege they have heard dying people do.
Take away points:
Geriatric hospital care is not adequate to ensure comfort, nutrition and contentment for people without family involvement. The professional care needs to be improved, but families still need to be involved. Where there is no family, voluntary groups need to be involved.
A more protracted death (like my sister’s, or nephew’s) need not be a time of pain, distress and trauma either for the dying person or the family and carers.
Palliative care is effective and needs to be more widely available.
The CLOSING DATE for submissions is 1 FEBRUARY 2016. It is vital that Parliament hears a resounding “no” to the question of whether or not euthanasia should be legalised in New Zealand. NZHPA encourages all health professionals, students of health professions, and members of the general public who are opposed to euthanasia, to make their voices heard.