Local GP John McMenamin's role in turning the assisted-dying "informational" evening, organised early this year by his fellow Catholic Kate Joblin, into a one-sided propaganda spectacle will not be easily forgotten.
So it's no surprise to see his "comment" piece musing on the issue, which will be put to all voters in a referendum next year. What is surprising is that he purports to speak for other doctors, specifically the NZ Medical Association (NZMA).
The NZ Medical Council says it registers more than 1500 doctors a year and an undated figure on its website cites more than 17,000 on its books, so let's say the current number is about 18,500.
Yet the church-backed anti-assisted dying Care Alliance, of which McMenamin is a member, is a big spender on full-page newspaper ads proclaiming that it has 1500 doctor members. So McMenamin is one of only 8 per cent of doctors recruited over three years by the Alliance, fronted by his fellow Catholic Sinead Donnelly. And while Catholics are the most demanding group opposed to assisted dying, they were only 10 per cent of the population in the last census and their numbers are dropping.
McMenamin and his Care Alliance fellows are clearly out of touch with ordinary New Zealanders among their patients. Otago University research from last year found that, on average, 68.3 per cent of all New Zealanders supported euthanasia with 14.9 per cent opposed. The rest were neutral or unsure. The survey analysed existing research investigating New Zealanders' attitudes to euthanasia or assisted dying over the past 20 years.
He makes much of the NZMA's opposition to assisted dying, suggesting it is credible because it is the largest group representing doctors, even though it admits to only 5000 to 6000 members including medical students, ie a minority of about 27 per cent of registered doctors. By comparison, the last anonymous survey of doctors showed 37 per cent supported assisted dying and a further 11 per cent weren't sure.
That chimes with claims in a recent open letter to the NZMA chair, signed by 19 doctors, including palliative care specialists, which rubbished the NZMA board for its stance. The letter, by cardiologist and physician Miles Williams, said the association had a reputation among many doctors of being "conservative, moralistic, paternalistic even."
He accused NZMA of having a deceptive "belief-based doctrine". I say that pretty much sums up McMenamin's use of the association as a shield for his minority faith-based, fact-free "comment".
Doctor or cleric?
I feel your correspondent Dr John McMenamin concerns himself overly with concepts that usually preoccupy clerics.
Whilst avoiding the telltale giveaway "sanctity of life", he wonders "whether life belongs solely to us or whether we hold it in trust", which is a more modern expression of the same: Life comes from a god and only that god should end it. (Euthanasia debate: why most doctors are opposed to end of life choice" November 26).
"Most" doctors are not opposed to end-of-life choice. A recent anonymous survey of medical practitioners showed that 37 per cent supported it. Doctors are conservative, but as New Zealander of the Year 2014 Dr Lance O'Sullivan said, once assisted dying is legalised, the reticent will creep out of hiding and admit that, yes, they always did believe there was a place for it. O'Sullivan himself supports it in some circumstances.
Ungagging is happening even in palliative care. CEO of St Helena hospice, UK, Mark Jarman-Howe, reported to the Guardian last week: "Like all fields of medicine, even the very best palliative care has its limits. That isn't failure — it's reality."
Two other hospice CEOs expressed support for assisted dying the very next day. More will follow.
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