By Maggie Barry, National Party MP
As deputy chairwoman of the justice select committee, I've been listening to some very well considered submissions on the controversial euthanasia and assisted suicide bill before Parliament.
There were 36,000 individuals and groups who wrote to Parliament with their views on the End of Life Choice Bill. Ten per cent have indicated that they would like to be heard in person, which the committee has promised to do.
So we have extended the reporting deadline from September to next March. While I will listen attentively and respectfully to everyone's viewpoint, I remain concerned at the lack of adequate safeguards to protect our most vulnerable.
A troubling aspect emerging from the public discussions is the large number of people who say they are in favour of the bill but who admit that they have not actually read it, claiming they don't care about the detail, they just want to have the option.
Have you ever heard of anyone who did not want to die with dignity or be treated with compassion? Rather than being lulled by the wording around this poorly drafted bill, I've been urging people to delve deeper - it's vital to know the details when stakes are so high and protections for the vulnerable so low.
Many incorrectly assume the law only applies to the terminally ill, but it would actually licence doctors to end the life of anyone with a "grievous, irremediable condition".
That vague phrase is not an accepted medical or legal one and leaves the door open for coercion and abuse, and could potentially extend to include people with long-term conditions such as arthritis, dementia and diabetes as it has in other countries that have opened the door to euthanasia.
I do not want New Zealand to become a country where vulnerable dementia sufferers or disabled people are not valued and become even more susceptible to pressure from society to end their lives prematurely. I share in the concerns of Disability Rights Commissioner Paula Tesoriero, who said the bill "undermines the position of disabled and vulnerable members of our community. It devalues their lives and poses significant risk to them."
During my time as Minister for Seniors, I was very aware of the growing problem of elder abuse - one in 10 New Zealanders over 65 experiences physical, psychological and emotional violence every year. Unfortunately, three quarters of abusers are family members.
If this extremely liberal bill was to pass, it is not hard to imagine that some of those 70,000 abused seniors could be coerced or pressured into ending their lives prematurely.
I understand the concerns of the medical profession and I support the position taken by the majority of health professionals who are ethically opposed to killing their patients. Terminating another person's life goes against everything a medical professional trains for.
Instead of changing the Crimes Act to allow culpable homicide and assisted suicide, I believe the answer is to ensure all New Zealanders have access to top-quality palliative care wherever and whenever they need it.
As a former patron of Mary Potter Hospice and Hospice NZ, and chairwoman of a government working party on the care of people who are dying, I believe the compassionate solution is to ensure we all have the choice of accessing world-class palliative care to ensure we can all die with dignity.
That is why I've drafted a member's bill, currently in the ballot, which would amend the Health and Disability Act to enshrine universal access to palliative care as a right for all New Zealanders. It would place obligations on health boards and the minister to develop strategies for the provision of high quality end-of-life care to all who need it.
To view Maggie Barry's Access to Palliative Care Bill, please visit: https://maggiebarry.national.org.nz/
End of Life Choice Bill - Public Meeting
Tuesday, May 29 ; 5.30pm to 7.30pm
Whanganui Central Baptist Church
285 Wicksteed St, Whanganui