I want to say from the outset I'm sure I would have seen more death and destruction than the average 70-year-old Kiwi bloke.
Where do I stand on the End of Life Choice Bill? Simple: I support it, but I need to say I'm not a card-holding, flag-waving member of any group. I just want to share my path to my present position and why I have gone public on my view.
Firstly, I'm annoyed at the constant misinformation being peddled by various groups opposing this bill. Secondly, race and religion getting stuffed down our necks is certainly counter-productive.
Well, in my case it is, and I'm sure with other citizens. I certainly don't respect their position or stance, but I acknowledge their right to free speech.
It's clear that people's views are developed from a young age; in my case I can recall events like they were yesterday. As a youngster in the 1950s I lived in Lower Hutt.
My grandfather, a stubborn old Scot, lived here in Whanganui. He was dying of cancer and totally bedridden, I can recall coming to Whanganui on a rushed trip with my uncle to see him. I was shocked when I saw him; he was white and pale, he put his hand out and we touched and I was ushered out of his bedroom. It was the last time I saw him.
Within two days he had dragged himself out of his "deathbed" and somehow got himself down the roadway at night, a total of 200 yards, and slipped into the Whanganui River, drowning himself to relieve his pain.
He was cremated and his ashes were thrown on a rose garden (no headstone, no grave). It's like he did not even exist. My father was disgusted that my grandfather had taken the "coward's way out". I always admired my grandfather and quickly respected his courage to take his own life and end his pain and misery.
Later in life I took up employment with the Health Department (Mental Health Department) as a student nurse looking after patients with severe physical and mental disorders.
A number of severely handicapped patients died while in care. I seem to remember these patients were not given antibiotic medicines or "life-extending" treatments in their final periods of life. Years later, I would also run into this practice in a hospital close to Wanganui, where a severely injured client of mine in a deep coma went through the same process. This patient lived for a year and, more than likely, died of old age still bed-bound.
I left the Health Department to join the NZ Police, and one of the less satisfying tasks was to attend suicides. I would have attended over 10 (I was not counting them). Other colleagues would also have had the same range of incidents.
I can clearly say that none of these cases would in any way fit the current bill's criteria. They were mainly due to broken relationships, loneliness — not strict terminal medical conditions. I get annoyed when the anti-bill group call this the Assisted Suicide Bill; it's not. Personally, I think the name of the bill is too long, but I acknowledge the reason is to keep "everyone happy".
A few years ago when the euthanasia debate was under way (again), a local person published a book called To Die Like a Dog, about her mother's tragic death. I had the opportunity to talk to the author, Lesley Martin, over a real-estate matter.
She asked me if I would be interested to be their publicity manager/spokesman. At that time I was in real estate and doing a column on that and also one on my position as a regional councillor with Horizons.
I was also in the Vision team, so I spoke to Michael Laws who in 1994 had tried to push a Private Member's Bill through Parliament for his friend and Wanganui colleague Cam Campion, who was dying of cancer.
Michael's reply was simple: "Have you the commitment and time to do it?" I reflected on my workload and decided I did not have enough hours in the day. That's as close as I came to being a card-carrying, flag-waving member with the Death with Dignity cause, as it was known then.
I feel sorry for the medical staff and our current health system. Doctors should have choices to get involved in the proposed system to assist people to die with dignity and be pain-free, and patients should have a personal choice on how they depart.
I can recall two serious cases while employed as a rehab officer. Both had very different medical outcomes. One client suffered major head injuries and was in a deep coma (so everyone thought).
While lying there he overheard a surgeon say, "No point fixing his leg; he will be gone tomorrow". My client heard these comments and got wild and determined to survive. He's still alive and playing golf today.
The second case involved a freezing worker I knew from the Patea works. A large hot water cylinder burst, spilling hundreds of gallons of boiling water into a room. My client was swimming in boiling water.
I saw him the next day; I was shocked at the extensive body burns and asked a stupid question, "How are you"? His reply was, "I feel like a crayfish, Bob". He died the following day; he was never transferred to the Lower Hutt burns unit.
I just want to say the medical staff then and now make life-and-death decisions, and it's not fair to involve them as pawns in some political game. Pass the bill and make it subject to a binding referendum.
Give medical staff the opportunity to be involved or not similar to other medical matters. This bill deserves respect and so do the people it impacts on.
Let's look at some stats using the race and religion cards as an indicator: 74 per cent of New Zealanders are European, 14.9 per cent are indigenous Maori, 11.8 per cent are Asians, 7.4 per cent are non-Maori Pacific islanders. 12.6 per cent of New Zealanders are Catholics.
So the power vote is with European New Zealanders — which, sadly, I believe is the silent majority. Now one can see why race and religion groups are highly active and organised to fight this bill.
In my view it's a sad state of affairs. The terminally ill who want a choice are shunted on to the sidelines (again).