Words matter. I choose mine to provide clarity, but clarity isn't the only possible motivation for word choice.
Politicians and their consultants often use words to arouse emotion or, its opposite, to dispel emotion. Former United States President Barack Obama's healthcare law was attacked, its provisions for end-of-life planning labelled "death panels" by opponents.
The euphemism "climate change" is far less distressing than global warming. It's also deliberately confusing as it lends itself to minimising the risks and potential damage of inaction.
"Enhanced interrogation" allows the US government to evade the consequences of torture.
As the End of Life Choice Bill makes its way through Parliament, we need to take note of the effort of its opponents to deflect from the bill's stated intention of providing a means whereby competent adults dying from untreatable illness, with unbearable suffering, will have the choice of medical assistance to aid their death.
Opponents prefer to use the term "euthanasia" which has connotations — wholly inapplicable here — that generate fear of people forced to die or, worse, be killed.
Euthanasia is not the same as physician-assisted suicide. The word implies administration of a lethal substance by one person to another.
The End of Life Choice bill rests on continuing voluntary choice. Choice means the dying person must choose the means and time of their death and, while the physician is there to assist, the dying person must choose by themselves to take the prescribed lethal barbiturate, a medicine which has sedative qualities as it slows and eventually stops the breathing.
Opponents of this choice of ending life in the face of death use language to suggest coercion as a factor in the decision. They argue that what appears voluntary will soon, by a "slippery slope", become involuntary. The 2016 Journal of the American Medical Association study of outcomes in Oregon, Canada and in Europe does not confirm these predictions. Nonetheless, in 2016, New Zealand police instituted a surveillance operation on innocent people assembled at a public meeting on assisted suicide. The Independent Police Conduct Authority has now declared that action illegal.
The fact that the surveillance of these citizens in peaceful assembly had a name, "Operation Painter", suggests a plan devised by some person or several within the NZ police hierarchy. Cops don't just spontaneously bug a meeting, set up road blocks, pretend to breath-test or otherwise employ a ruse to take down personal details, then perform follow-up home visits.
It's not sufficient to declare the actions of the police illegal. This has every resemblance to political use of police power to intimidate a group of elderly citizens.
Let's be clear — most of the audience at end-of-life discussions are well beyond pensioner age. Not usually a group predisposed to threaten public safety.
In the US, during the Vietnam War, the FBI — under orders of its director, J Edgar Hoover — spied on peaceful anti-war groups including the Quakers.
Documents published in 1971 by the Washington Post showed the "COINTELPRO" operation was designed to disrupt legal activities of citizens. The consequent Congressional investigation which exposed this wrongdoing led to a major shakeup of the FBI.
Police everywhere rely for their work in fighting crime on the co-operation of the communities they serve. Part of that support is the willingness of the public to provide information.
Where there is evidence of abuse of trust, it is the police, themselves, who become the first losers as the sources of information withhold it. And, in their reduced capacity, the police are less able to perform their basic function.
There needs to be a thorough governmental inquiry, and the individual data illegally obtained must be destroyed. Those in authority, whether in police or the last government, who planned this illegal action need to be held accountable.
We cannot have a politicised police; we need to be secure that police act for our safety not to imperil it.
■ Jay Kuten is an American-trained forensic psychiatrist who emigrated to New Zealand for the fly fishing. He spent 40 years comforting the afflicted and intends to spend the rest afflicting the comfortable.