Lesley Martin is a trustee of Dignity NZ, an organisation that backs the legalisation of voluntary euthanasia. Here she shares her views on the case of Margaret Page, who is trying to starve herself to death.
Margaret Page's decision to end her life by refusing food and fluids once again raises the sensitive issue of assisted dying.
As a picture paints a thousand words, the image of Margaret obtained by the Dominion Post on the evening of Day 10 of this arduous process gives us an insight into the ordeal that she and her family now face.
Already thin and fragile from chronic disability, with face set solidly against any intervention, Margaret has chosen to invoke her right under the Bill of Rights 1990 to refuse or withdraw medical treatment and refuse food and fluids according to her wishes.
To deny Margaret this right amounts to assault. Margaret has been assessed psychiatrically as being of competent mind. She has endured years of disability and dependency.
Death is inevitable for each and every one of us. So why are we all so upset that Margaret has chosen to enact her right?
Perhaps it is because we have been made aware of Margaret, and we would prefer that we not be witness to the many sad situations that unfold around us as a result of lack of legislation that would enable and govern assisted dying. We quite like the false security that ignorance affords.
Perhaps we sympathise with Barry Page, Margaret's ex-husband, albeit that in one breath he demands that the care facility where Margaret resides force-feed her (and thus extend her life) and in the next breath calls such facilities commercial enterprises preying on the dependency of their residents for financial profit. What are your motives Barry?
Perhaps we feel, and rightly so, that Margaret, being of sound mind and clearly having endured the good fight, should have access to better end-of-life options than starvation with its agonies both physical and emotional.
Barry Page, acting in a minority opposition to the support surrounding Margaret has chosen to take a deeply personal journey and thrust it into the public domain, against his ex-wife's wishes. To what end?
Now we know that Margaret has undertaken a course of action that too many New Zealanders feel compelled to embrace because we continue to deny them humane assistance in dying under safeguarded legislation.
Now we will engage in a media-fuelled countdown towards Margaret's inevitable death - an offensive attention that no family should have to deal with on top of the stress of supporting Margaret through her journey.
Dignity NZ Trust proposes Dignity Havens as an equitable future choice for New Zealanders such as Margaret facing end-of-life choices. Dignity Havens providing both palliative care plus an option of legalized assistance in dying.
Dignity Havens that are legitimate, accountable, contained and responsible to the individual in the first instance, the family in the second and wider society as a whole.
Until such time as Dignity Havens are a reality for New Zealanders we can expect to meet Margaret again, and again, and again, and we may, just may, finally decide that our appetite for media sensationalism has soured and it is genuinely time to engage with this most complex of social reform issues. The challenge is ours to not just watch.