I have been following the progress of David Seymour's End of Life Choice bill with considerable concern. I realise this could come across as a Christian pastor against something (again!), but I would prefer to frame this as being in favour of life. When I talk to people in favour of euthanasia I often discover they have personal experience of watching a loved one suffer through a terminal illness. I empathise with them. My younger sister died of cancer. I was so grateful she had good pain relief that kept her comfortable most of the time. I know this isn't always the case. I was also grateful she asked me to pray with her for the first time in her last weeks.
So if you are in favour of assisting people to commit suicide then I understand your motivation of compassion and avoiding suffering. However, I hope you won't be offended if I post the arguments I sent in my submission against this bill. I am not making biblical or theological arguments, although those have been made - see for example Peter Saunders CEO of Christian Medical Fellowship UK.
My submission seeks to present arguments that someone who isn't a Christian and doesn't recognise the authority of the Bible, might still find compelling.
Tetraplegic model, Claire Freeman battled depression and pain and was referred to a euthanasia clinic in Switzerland where she had planned to end her life. Instead, when an operation went badly, she was forced to rest and sleep, and the pain subsided and she discovered a new chapter of her life. Now she is a successful model and speaks out against assisted suicide.
I put other arguments from my submission below in case you would like to include them in some way in a letter to your MP to encourage them to consider the harm euthanasia can bring.
I recognise that people have real fears of suffering and want to be able to make individual choices, and that the bill states it is motivated by compassion, however I am writing to urge you to vote against this bill at its second reading for the following reasons.
1. The danger that this bill would threaten the lives of vulnerable people in our society including the elderly and those very disabled. I have served as a minister in the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand for 27 years. During that time many elderly people have told me of their concern that they are not a burden to others, especially their family. This bill would bring a new pressure on them, that they consider euthanasia. Some unprincipled children looking to their inheritance could even put pressure on their elderly parents to choose to end their life before their finances are used up in providing care.
2. This bill would undermine attempts to reduce the suicide rate in New Zealand. Our society should not give mixed messages about suicide by suggesting it is acceptable, even desirable, under some circumstances. In my pastoral experience, most people who commit suicide seem to have, at least for that moment, felt they were experiencing “unbearable suffering that cannot be relieved in a manner that he or she considers tolerable” (clause 4e). Whether it is intended or not, this bill would increase public perception that suicide is acceptable.
Families frequently feel hurt, confusion and even guilt when a loved one commits suicide. In seeking to show compassion to allow a person to choose to end their life, this bill will inflict hurt on others who must watch on.
3. The destructive effect of this bill on the doctor-patient relationship. I value the trust that often develops between a doctor and patient, and their wider families. This bill would damage that. A doctor could no longer be trusted to “first do no harm” (Hippocratic oath).
When our health system is under pressure with an aging population, doctors and other health professionals could start suggesting euthanasia to patients as an option to be considered. Our society is often too pragmatic and driven by economic benefits rather than principles.
4. The vague eligibility criteria in this bill. Clause 4 would be very difficult for medical professionals to apply consistently and safely. Time has shown how the eligibility criteria for abortion in NZ has in practice become abortion on demand under the mental health grounds. The same would inevitably occur with this bill, until it became publically understood as “I have a right to end my life when I want to.” The Select Committee agreed that “the bill is not workable in its current state...”
5. This bill unhelpfully elevates individual choice over society well-being. Individual choices should not be allowed to damage the society we live in. This bill will do that by trying to be compassionate to an individual, but neglecting the wider effect of legalising euthanasia on the vulnerable, the medical and caring professions, and society’s overall value of the sanctity of life.
I urge you to vote against this bill and avoid serious ramifications for our society.