By Merepeka Raukawa-Tait
I have listened to the various arguments from those for and those against the End of Life Choice Bill.
The voices of those currently terminally ill, the doctors who might be called upon to assist the dying if the bill becomes law. From families who have admitted had New Zealand had this law when their family member was dying they would have been prepared to discuss and consider its use and from the Christian groups who naturally don't want a bar of it.
I have also been interested to listen to the Canadian experience in assisted dying. There are compelling arguments for and against.
But in this instance, I agree with the Hon. Winston Peters. The bill should go to referendum. Why would we want this important bill left up to 120 Members of Parliament to decide its fate? Their's will be a conscience vote. The bill passed its second reading in the house last week. Some Members of Parliament apparently changed their mind at the last moment. The second reading passed with more votes in support than anticipated. This could happen again, minds changing, when it is read for the third and final time. Even at a third reading, after numerous changes and amendments, I still believe it is necessary for the public to have a say. This is not your usual legislation; this is literally life and death.
Speaking to the bill last week some Members of Parliament became quite emotional. They shared stories of what they saw and experienced when their own family members and friends died. What they saw and how it impacted them.
Experiences good and bad can affect us for life. We don't forget; we are often shaped by them. Some people are lucky and have a good death, like dying in one's sleep, don't become ill, don't linger in pain with a terminal illness. Many die suddenly, doing what they love. Playing their favourite sport or being on an outing with family and friends. Here one minute, gone the next.
Just last week I was in Auckland at Maori TV waiting to be interviewed when I was informed the interview would not go ahead. A kaumatua attending a function at the studio had collapsed and died. This was, of course, upsetting for the family. I was pleased I could spend a short time with them before leaving the studio.
When I worked for West Auckland Hospice, I saw dedicated staff, and volunteers, helping terminally ill people to live well. People believe hospice is all about dying. I was often asked, "How can you work surrounded by dying people, it must be depressing?" No, it isn't. Hospice is about supporting people to have a good life for however long that might be. I know dying can be a painful experience. I have seen that too. One of New Zealand's foremost cancer specialists told me New Zealand needs to do better in pain management.
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"We don't have sufficient expertise in this area available as widely as we should."
I have found this is always the area of most concern when talking to those with a terminal illness. We all know we are going to die. Hopefully, after a good life and the threescore and 10 years promised, more if we're lucky. But none of us wants a painful exit.
New Zealanders should be given the opportunity, by way of referendum, to have their voices heard on whether the End of Life Choice Bill should become law. A referendum will confirm one way or the other whether this is what the majority truly want.
Merepeka Raukawa-Tait is a Rotorua district councillor, Lakes District Health Board member and chairs the North Island Whanau Ora Commissioning Agency. She writes, speaks and broadcasts to thwart political correctness.