To adapt a line from the British writer EM Forster, one cheer for Parliament's decision to keep the End of Life Choice bill alive by a robust majority of 70 to 50. Although much support came shrouded in only-ifs and other qualifications to ensure support at the next stage, in a reform-averse environment, even this much is welcome.
The debate highlighted a paradoxical lack of empathy and imagination on both sides. Did you really have to have lost someone who suffered through their last days to support voluntary euthanasia, as so many in the House and media reported? What does it say about us that we can't identify with strangers' suffering enough to see that it is right to let them end their life if they wish to. It's not about making the rest of us feel better.
Misdirection led the discussion in the days before the vote. Suddenly we learnt that "more than 1000 doctors" had signed a letter opposing the bill. In 2014, there were 15,336 doctors in New Zealand. The other roughly 14,000 were all presumably all given the opportunity to sign the letter.
Doctors really don't want to be in position of enabling - which in this case is the same as forcing - someone to endure pain. And they know more about it than the rest of us.
Regrettably, the bill's sponsor, David Seymour, has agreed to support weakening it from its current form, which permits voluntary euthanasia for "people with a terminal illness or a grievous and irremediable medical condition" said illness having a deadline of six months. He is happy to remove the provision for grievous and irremediable conditions, so it turns out we will at best end only some unnecessary suffering.
This amendment will sacrifice half the good this reform could do. Some people might make the choice to live for years with grievous and irremediable conditions - but that's the point. It is their choice. Many others would prefer not to, and that should be their choice.
Still, one cheer – a six-month rebate on suffering is better than none.
Practical objections in the lead up to the vote have been just that – real concerns for which solutions can be found. For instance, that people might decide to end their lives unnecessarily due to undiagnosed or untreated depression.
As it stands the bill will take at least two and up to three levels of approval by medical professionals to ensure the safety of the subject's decision.
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This will also protect against the oft-raised spectre of coercion. Many fear that the bill could lead people to come under pressure from family members to exit swiftly and gracefully rather than continue to be a burden to them. There is little evidence of this occurring in jurisdictions where voluntary euthanasia is legal. That said, it's coercion that should be made a crime with severe penalties, not voluntary euthanasia.
These practical objections are in many cases raised by people whose real agenda is religious. It's not impossible to find atheists against voluntary euthanasia, but it's not easy. Meanwhile, the armies of organised religion have raised themselves up en masse to fight this bill. An aggressive religious-based opposition is keen to speak for the whole population in letting superstition overcome sense and sensitivity.
At which point it's worth reminding ourselves again that it is a voluntary euthanasia bill, not a compulsory euthanasia bill. No one will force people to be part of it at any level against their religious principles. The rest of us should be allowed to control our own lives and deaths.
Too much of this discussion has been the wrong way around. Supporters shouldn't be arguing for voluntary euthanasia. Opponents should have to justify the cruelty of forcing someone to exist in pain against their wishes.