Majority support choice to end life

By Mike Dinsdale

2 comments
Labour MP Maryann Street
Labour MP Maryann Street

An End of Life Choice group has been set up in Whangarei to talk about the contentious issue of voluntary euthanasia.

A recent survey by Whangarei MP Phil Heatley showing that more than 60 per cent of Whangarei residents want euthanasia legalised in some form came just after Labour MP Maryann Street withdrew her End of Life Choice Bill private member's bill which would attempt to decriminalise assisted suicide or euthanasia.

Ms Street will re-enter the bill for consideration after the 2014 general election and End Of Life Choice Whangarei spokeswoman Pat Gray said it was important that the public received quality information about what the bill intends to do.

Ms Gray said the fact that Mr Heatley had used the term euthanasia - when the debate was about choices - showed that more debate and information was needed.

Mr Heatley sent surveys to 7000 households in the electorate covering issues like euthanasia, cannabis legislation, barriers stopping the district progressing, plans for unitary authorities and the biggest problems in the area, with 977 responses received.

On euthanasia 46 per cent wanted it legalised for medical purposes only and 20 per cent wanted it legalised, with 20 per cent saying it should remain illegal and 9 per cent undecided.

The MP said the results on euthanasia were a surprise, but Ms Gray said a similar survey several years ago came up with a very similar result, so it was clear that the majority of people supported changing the law. She said Chief Coroner Neil McLean has raised concern about the increasing numbers of people aged in their 80s who were recorded as having committed suicide and she believed this was because many did not want to spend the rest of their lives in pain or in rest homes.

"Euthanasia is not the right language. It's about people making the choice (to end their life) themselves rather than the medical profession saying these people are ready to die," Ms Gray said.

She said the End of Life Choice Bill was about giving people suffering from terminal illnesses a choice of "dying with dignity," if they chose to, when they were "desperately ill and suffering immensely."

The bill advocates options for the terminally ill, including obtaining a prescription for life-ending drugs for those who qualify and who complete a request process.

The bill is based on Oregon's Death With Dignity Act.

In the 15 years the Act has been running in the US state, about 700 people with terminal illnesses have opted for hastening their death - less than one per cent of the deaths in Oregon. The Act had clear safeguards and required multiple requests from the person before it would be considered.

At least two different doctors were then required to approve the application.

Anybody keen on hearing from the Whangarei group can contact plgray@clear.net.nz

- Northern Advocate

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