Terminally ill man David Stephens pleas for right to die video

IAIN MCGREGOR/Stuff.co.nz

David Stephens speaks before his death about motor neurone disease and euthanasia.

Motor neurone sufferer David Stephens wants the right to choose when he will die.

In just a year, the incurable neurological disease has left the 64-year-old Canterbury father, grandfather and former businessman unable to eat, struggling for breath and facing life without control of his body.

He wonders when his "crap" life will end.

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Stephens is speaking out for his right to choose when to die as ACT MP David Seymour launches a bill in Parliament to legalise voluntary euthanasia. 

The controversial issue is the subject of a Parliamentary inquiry, after Wellington lawyer Lecretia Seales' failed bid to get the courts to rule in favour of assisted suicide.

She died in June, learning just hours before her death that Justice David Collins had ruled Parliament was the only body able to make euthanasia legal.

David Stephens, 64, was diagnosed with motor neurone disease last year and wants the right to choose when he dies.
IAIN MCGREGOR/FAIRFAX NZ

David Stephens, 64, was diagnosed with motor neurone disease last year and wants the right to choose when he dies.

Stephens, of Tai Tapu, was diagnosed with motor neurone, which causes unstoppable deterioration of movements and bodily functions, in August last year. 

His face drawn, Stephens is frail, and his breath becomes shallow as he pants constantly with the effort.

Stephens wants to end his life when he can no longer walk or talk. He cannot see the point in continuing to exist in such a state.

David Stephens requires fulltime care and wants to end his life when he can no longer walk or talk.
IAIN MCGREGOR/FAIRFAX NZ

David Stephens requires fulltime care and wants to end his life when he can no longer walk or talk.

He requires help from his fulltime carer and daughter, Kim, and his wife, Jenny.  

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No longer able to eat, he has two-hourly milkshakes dispensed through a tube in his stomach.

"I can't get dressed; I've never been a person to sit around doing nothing."

When asked about his typical day Stephens said he liked going to bed at night.

"There are still positive things but its a long day."

Stephens has no idea how long he has to live.

"Some people can live for up to 10 years . . . the average person takes two years to die, but I don't know."

Stephens had been spurred by Seales' actions to call for a law change.

"I just thought maybe they can do something about it before it gets really bad - rather than sitting around knowing you're going to die . . . I mean it makes sense doesn't it, when you think about it."

READ MORE:
David Seymour's voluntary euthanasia bill to be lodged in Parliament
* Voluntary euthanasia petition presented to Parliament
Euthanasia debate back on the political agenda

Prime Minister John Key has made clear that while he backed an inquiry, the Government would not put euthanasia on its own work programme. 

Seymour said a private members bill was the only option left to change the law. 

"The End of Life Choice Bill is a response to the anguish faced by a small but significant minority of people with terminal illness or who are grievously and irremediably ill, as they anticipate the prospect of intolerable suffering and the indignity of the final few days and weeks of their lives.

"The motivation for this Bill is compassion. It allows people who so choose and are eligible under this Bill to end their life in peace and dignity, surrounded by loved ones," he said.

Any vote on euthanasia would be a conscience vote, but it could be months or longer before Seymour's bill was pulled from the ballot. 

Green Party co-leader James Shaw said the party did not have a stance, but his personal view was to support the bill to its first reading.

Beyond that, it would depend whether the safeguards to prevent abuse of such a law were at the right setting, he said.

Finance Minister Bill English, who is Catholic, said he would not support the bill if it appeared before the house. 

"No-one has been able to write a euthanasia law that sufficiently protects the vulnerable."

Seymour said his bill "carefully defined those eligible for assisted dying". 

"It details a comprehensive set of provisions to ensure this is a free choice made without coercion, and outlines a stringent series of steps to ensure the person is mentally capable of understanding the nature and consequences of assisted dying."

ACT commissioned a poll of 2800 people, which Seymour said showed showed 66 per cent of the public favoured allowing assisted dying, 38 per cent were strongly in favour and 20 per cent were opposed.

A petition to hold an inquiry was heard on Wednesday before Parliament's Health Select Committee. It was instigated by the voluntary Euthanasia Society of New Zealand and former Labour MP Maryan Street.

 - Stuff

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