Lecretia Seales deserves better than this
The sad if inevitable demise of lawyer Lecretia Seales last week, preceded so ungallantly by a judicial decision denying her the right to determine the circumstances of her own death, has ever so briefly stirred our political masters on the subject of voluntary euthanasia. John Key offered his condolences, yet also backed the decision of Justice David Collins to affirm the supremacy of Parliament in the matter of medically assisted suicide. Key's comments suggested personal sympathy with Seales' efforts to create a legal precedent on her deathbed, but subsequent remarks have emphasised other, opposing views within National's caucus. His government will not, therefore, initiate any new legislation.
Our Prime Minister is, as ever, open to "debate" on the issue. In this he would appear one up on Labour's Andrew Little, whose tenure of leadership began with quashing MP Iain Lees-Galloway's private member's bill on voluntary euthanasia. Little's recent about face does, however, involve the proposed tabling of a petition organised by the End of Life Choice Society. If successful, the petition would be examined by a select committee. More talk would be guaranteed, if to no discernible end.
According Lees-Galloway, "Lecretia's bravery has created the public conversation that has given MPs the confidence they need to address this issue." One might question why it took a courageous woman's tragedy to put some backbone into our backbenchers and if a non-binding gab fest at select committee level in any way equates with "addressing the issue". It looks to me more like a grand passing of the buck. Rest assured that any report that might arise out of such an examination will be well and truly buried in the too-hard basket, an outcome most pleasing to Key, Little and all others fearful of the disruptive influence an issue of basic humanity would assuredly have on the cosy world of party politics. It goes without saying that Ms Seales deserves better than this. We all do. When it comes to voluntary euthanasia, the failure of MPs to effect substantive change is a failure of our democracy. When Maryan Street was campaigning for her private member's bill on the issue in 2012, a poll suggested that popular support for assisted suicide in the case of terminal illness was as high as 75 per cent. Even if this one-off statistic overstates the public's views on the matter, the response to Seales' plight suggests many more of us than not would favour a law change. The status quo is radically at odds with the will of the people. We are being held hostage by a religiously inclined minority. A holier than thou tail is wagging the dog.
As the dilemma demonstrates, the whole concept of conscience votes in Parliament is fundamentally undemocratic. The suggestion that some subjects are just too sensitive for parties to entertain a collective stance or policy on is a cop-out. Voters should be entitled to know their would-be representatives' views and likely positions in the House on every issue. Members of Parliament should also exercise their "conscience" at all times, not just when it comes to certain inherently controversial matters in which the spiritually deluded have a vested interest. Why, for example, is voluntary euthanasia more a matter of "conscience" than, say, the sending of troops to Iraq? If the National Party hacks can be whipped into providing canon fodder for American oil wars, why cannot they be equally told to get behind a policy with a good deal more popular support: showing the sick and dying at least as much consideration as you would a lame horse.
The religious position on assisted suicide assumes farcical proportions when set next to the Gallipoli anniversary and wider reflections on World War I seen in recent months. Consider how a century ago, as during all other military conflicts of significance, Christian churches of most denominations got right behind the mass slaughter, betraying chapter and verse of scripture. Thou shalt not kill unless it is the Hun, the Viet Cong, Islamic State or whatever the enemy of the moment. Moreover, if you happen to be horribly shot in the process, maimed or disfigured, don't look for early relief from your suffering. The sanctity of life demands that you enjoy pain and discomfort to the very last. If the holy are happy with such double standards, they have a perfect right to be. Any law change around assisted suicide will not make it compulsory. The majority, though, deserve the option and a Parliament that reflects their will.