Two years after Lecretia Seales died while fighting for a law change to allow euthanasia, politicians will finally discuss it. Lecretia would have loved the timing, writes her widower Matt Vickers.
The universe certainly has a sense of humour. Last week, I happened to find myself back in New Zealand for the second anniversary of my late wife's passing, and for the Lecretia Seales Memorial Lecture, held at Victoria University Law School on Thursday night. No one, least of all me, expected that David Seymour's End of Life Choice Bill might be drawn from the ballot on that same day, but it was.
After Seales v Attorney General, there was a strong public sentiment for politicians to react. And as a result of a petition raised by former MP Maryan Street, the Health Select Committee agreed to investigate the issue of assisted dying.
Over the past year, that committee has received and heard thousands of submissions from New Zealanders up and down the country. At around the same time, Seymour took up the issue, and submitted a private member's bill into the parliamentary ballot.
There's evidence of an organised campaign to stack submissions against assisted dying, but that doesn't concern me.
A similar thing happened when the Civil Union Bill went to select committee in 2004. Of the submissions to that bill, 83 per cent were opposed. The usual suspects, such as Family First, worked hard to drum up as many negative submissions as they could, but ultimately, politicians did the right thing and the law was passed. The marriages of Bob McCoskrie's supporters remained sacred and unthreatened.
In order to understand how Kiwis really feel about assisted dying, we only need to look at the many scientific polls that have been conducted by various polling companies, which show support at levels as high as 75 per cent.
Seymour's bill will give politicians a chance to discuss assisted dying for the first time since Peter Brown's Death with Dignity Bill in 2003. Like me, Brown was personally motivated to pursue this legislation after losing his wife to cancer.
At the first reading, Rodney Hide told the story of his friend, Martin Hames, who took his own life to avoid the worst of his illness, a slow and progressive condition called Huntington's Disease. Fourteen years later, and many other individuals have sought lonely, violent deaths, concealed from their families, in order to escape their suffering, because of a lack of assisted dying legislation. Without it, those terrible deaths will continue.
I believe that having this choice available will empower people to be able to have honest and frank end of life conversations with their doctors.
For some, possibly most, that will be enough. Indeed, when looking at the number of people who access assisted dying in Oregon - only 0.4 per cent of all deaths, by the way - only two thirds of applicants ended up taking their life-ending medication. The others merely took comfort that they had the drug if they needed it.
Doctors in Oregon have gone on record as saying that having assisted dying legislation brings a huge amount of relief to their patients, and even if it's only the start of a conversation, it brings an honesty to end of life care that allows the doctor to help patients explore all of their options.
Assisted dying is an activity of absolute last resort - only pursued by the most determined and resolute of patients; patients who are far from the vulnerable, passive victims that opponents would suggest.
As MPs come to debate this issue, I would encourage them to read my book, Lecretia's Choice, which outlines the evidence presented in Lecretia's case, but which also may help put politicians in a frame of mind where they can imagine themselves in a situation like Lecretia's, and to imagine the choices they might like to have.
When Governor Jerry Brown signed assisted dying into law in California in 2015, he wrote: "I do not know what I would do if I were dying in prolonged and excruciating pain. I am certain, however, that it would be a comfort to be able to consider the options afforded by this bill. And I wouldn't deny that right to others."
We will soon find out whether our politicians have the arrogance to deny that right to New Zealand citizens, and to go against the wishes of three quarters of the population.
Lecretia had a marvellous sense of humour, and I can imagine her laughing with delight at the confluence of events that has resulted in this bill being drawn so close to a general election.
In taking her case, Lecretia had hoped to spark a national discussion on the issue of assisted dying, and ultimately for a bill to be presented in the house for vote. It's wonderful to reflect on the fact that two years later, that is precisely what has happened, and Lecretia's memory and legacy continues to live on.