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Right to die?

by Martin Sullivan

Reflections on Lecretia Seales ‘Right to die’ interview with Kathryn Ryan, Tuesday, 3 March.

Late last year Andrew Little decided it was time for Labour to return to core business and instructed Iain Lees Galloway to drop Maryanne Street’s End of Life Choices Bill and to develop some policy around zero hours contracts. Since then Lecretia Seales has become the latest public face of the right to die lobby. In her interview on Nine to Noon on Tuesday (3 March), Kathryn Ryan observed how courageous it was for Ms Seales to speak out for those who remained silent on the issue. When Ms Seales (a senior public lawyer with expertise in law and public policy) agreed that, yes, she was speaking for those who couldn’t speak out on the matter, I couldn’t help thinking “This is precisely the problem. It is people like this, with all their ‘expertise’ who will end up speaking for those disabled people who lack the communication skills or cannot speak once euthanasia is legalised.” So, these experts who are so scared of becoming disabled that they firmly believe “better dead than disabled” are those who will get to speak for us when it comes to the end game? What a terrifying prospect!

There were a number of other unquestioned assumptions in the interview that need challenging. To start, there is the assumption that there is a whole host of people out there who are ‘silent’ about their wish to be euthanized if they should get a terminal condition. I have no doubt that there are some, but how many?  Tens? Hundreds? Thousands? Those in the pro-euthanasia/physician assisted suicide camp would have us believe thousands if not millions but this is mere assertion and not evidence based.

During the course of the interview Ms Seales made it clear that when things got too bad she wanted someone there to pull her plug for her. She said that this was something she had discussed with her husband and that while he supported her decision, it would be too close to home and he would not be able to do the pulling. So the solution is to legalise euthanasia and let doctors get on with their job of assisting people to die. Hang on a minute - I thought the Hippocratic oath which all doctors take was about preserving life and doing no harm? And so it seems does the New Zealand Medical Association which has repeatedly issued statements that it opposes euthanasia on all counts, especially physician assisted suicide. But we all know doctors are doing it all the time don’t we? The various pro-euthanasia groups keep telling us so, so it must be right, mustn’t it? Show me the evidence I say.

The other problem with physician assisted suicide is that we will all be implicated in the killing of innocent citizens by virtue of the fact doctors are subsidised by public money. Public money comes from the various taxes, levies, rates and so on we all pay.

Language is important in this debate. Most pro-euthanasia lobbyists don’t like to use ‘euthanasia’ and prefer the cuddlier ‘right to die’, ‘assisted death’ or ‘death with dignity’ euphemisms. It seems that ‘euthanasia’ comes with just too much baggage; baggage such as the Nazi euthanasia program which became our silent holocaust in which over 200,000 of us perished. Of course this will never happen again we are assured; safeguards will be built into the euthanasia laws to stop the slippery slope of involuntary euthanasia. Just like they have in the Netherlands and Belgium? Yeah right.  I will blog about this next time.

The theme ‘better dead than disabled’ was strong throughout the interview especially when it came to talking about losing independence as it so frequently does in interviews like this. This always puzzles me for I cannot see why it is so devastating in the minds of others to need someone to help than, say, get dressed when it is not at all devastating for them to have to rely on someone to fix their TV, or car, or plumbing.  Human society is highly complex and interdependent; we rely so much on others in all manner of ways to survive that isn’t it about time we kicked the ideological habits of able-bodiedness, able-mindedness and independence and got on with living interdependently with each other?  

So I say ‘Amen’ to Andrew Little; working people need Labour to give voice to their struggle for social justice, the end to zero hour contracts, a living wage and dignity in their working lives in exactly the same way that we disabled people need them to give voice to our struggle for adequate support services that enable us to live our lives in dignity. Working people, disabled people, most people just want to live their lives in dignity; how this is to be achieved is what should be debated in the halls of power, not quick and dirty solutions to the economically burdensome.  


Martin is a founding member of Not Dead Yet Aotearoa, an organisation of disabled people and their allies opposed to the legalisation of euthanasia, assisted suicide and physician assisted suicide. See  

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