The architect of voluntary euthanasia legislation in Holland is touring New Zealand saying if life is a gift from God then it may be returned by the owner.
Dr Rob Jonquiere has spoken at several gatherings over the past two weeks on a speaking tour about the right to choose death in the end stages of incurable and painful illnessIn Whangarei, Dr Jonquiere was challenged as having "dubious ethics" and being "a murderer" for helping patients die at their request.
When one person declared life to be "God's sacred gift" the doctor was applauded when he agreed "that life is indeed a gift and that a gift may be graciously returned with thanks".
Dr Jonquiere addressed 125 people at the public meeting at Forum North at the invitation of the Whangarei End of Life Focus Group.
The group is part of the Voluntary Euthanasia Society of New Zealand movement trying to raise awareness of the subject and have the matter addressed at legislative level.
"Medically assisted dying completes the continuum of end-of-life care," Dr Jonquiere.
He said people made choices throughout their adult lives - whom to marry, where to live and work, how to raise children, etc.
"Why can't we choose to die when the alternative is a living death?"
Several people in the audience said they were there to learn more about the subject; others said they or loved ones would choose medically assisted death now if it were legal. During a question and discussion session, a few people spoke out against assisted-dying being allowed under any circumstances.
In an interview last week with the Bay of Plenty Times Weekend, Dr Jonquiere said proponents of medically assisted dying were gaining traction and voluntary euthanasia (legal in his country for more than a decade), and palliative care were not mutually exclusive.
"In the Netherlands, palliative care is integrated in the health care system."
Dr Jonquiere said about 70 per cent of people who request voluntary euthanasia in Holland never go through with it - either their requests are denied, or they die naturally.
"Knowing in the end there will be a process to be assisted to die in a dignified, humane way ... they could bear more suffering than they ever expected."
Canada's Supreme Court, earlier this month, issued a unanimous decision clearing a path for physicians to provide life-ending medication to competent adults with a 'grievous and irremediable medical condition'.
The Canadian decision struck down laws banning doctors from taking part in ending a patient's life. The court said current bans violated rights of life, liberty and security as protected by Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
New Zealand's Voluntary Euthanasia Society is circulating a petition asking Parliament to investigate public attitudes toward the introduction of similar legislation.
Ken Orr, spokesman for New Zealand Right to Life, said his group was lobbying vigorously to ensure voluntary euthanasia remained illegal. Orr said Dr Jonquiere's message: "Is a threat to the most vulnerable in our community; the disabled, the aged and the mentally ill. Once we have the right to die it'll become a duty to die for the elderly in retirement homes, Alzheimer's patients, people with dementia ... If we allowed assisted suicide, you have a situation that becomes very dangerous because it's much easier to kill a patient than to care for them."
The New Zealand Medical Association opposes euthanasia and doctor-assisted suicide.
The NZMA website states, "Even if they were to become legal, or decriminalised, the NZMA would continue to regard them as unethical."
Dr Jonquiere addressed more than 100 people at another "end of life choice" meeting at Tamatea Community Church yesterday.
His words were well received by Pauline Tangiora, who sat in the second row listening intently. When approached afterwards she recalled the passing of her Dutch sister-in-law in a Holland hospital as an example of "death with dignity".
"It's beautiful, the family were with her, they were laughing, she was able to say goodbye then gave the doctor a nod to release the injection and she went to sleep - she had cancer of the spine.
Dr Jonquiere will speak in Wellington tomorrow and tour South Island centres, beginning in Nelson on Sunday.