Brian Edwards Media

A Response to “Euthanasia-Free New Zealand”

8am Sunday. Just opened the following news release from an outfit calling itself “Euthanasia-Free New Zealand”:

“Application  for a change to New Zealand Law on assisted suicide and euthanasia is not in society’s best interests.

“Lecretia Seales is a courageous woman, afflicted with a terrible disease. It is impossible not to be moved by her tragic situation. Yet her application to the High Court for a ruling on whether current N.Z. laws in respect of euthanasia and assisted suicide breach her rights under the Bill of Rights Act, although intended only to relate to her case, will, if successful, in the long run adversely affect the rights of many others in our society” says Professor David Richmond, a spokesperson for Euthanasia-Free New Zealand.

“Ms Seales’ request is superficially a simple one based on personal choice and autonomy. Unfortunately the issues are far more complex for society than that”, he said. “Current laws were drawn up to guarantee citizens the right to life. If Ms. Seales’ actions were to lead eventually to the decriminalisation of euthanasia and assisted suicide as she apparently hopes they will, citizens will be guaranteed the right to State sanctioned death – presumably at the hands of doctors. Our observation of how these things work in Holland and Belgium where euthanasia and assisted suicide are legal does not encourage us to think that significant abuses, including being killed without a specific request, will not occur”, he said. “There are compelling reasons for leaving the law as it is whilst concentrating on providing every care possible to relieve suffering in dying and upholding the dignity of those close to death.”

“Euthanasia–Free New Zealand hopes that this court action will result in a fresh impetus in our society to uphold the right of every citizen including the most vulnerable of us: the elderly, those with disabilities, the dependent and those near the end of life, to respect, care, support, honour – and life.
ENDS

:”CONTACTS: Professor David Richmond MD FRACP. Phone; 09 5705458, Email: d.richmond@clear.net.nz
Renee Joubert, Executive Officer. 021 167 4042″

*****************************************************************

9am Sunday: Replied as follows:

“I suggest you visit my website brianedwardsmedia.co.nz for a contrary view. Type “euthanasia” into the Search box. The arrogance of your view that the decision of a person of sound mind to end a life which is intolerable to them should be in your hands not theirs never ceases to astonish me.”

*****************************************************************

“Lecretia Seales is a courageous woman, afflicted with a terrible disease. It is impossible not to be moved by her tragic situation.”

On the contrary, Professor Richmond, it’s entirely possible for you not to be moved by her tragic situation. Indeed, far from being moved by it, you have now put your name to a petition whose effect would be to make that tragic situation even worse. It would deny her hope. And not just Lecretia, but every other person whose life has become intolerable to them and who wish to end their misery.

But that, according to you, is not their decision to make. It is yours because it offends your personal morality and the morality of those who would support your application.

Your Hippocratic Oath requires you to do no harm. Perhaps the definition should include  the harm of denying those whose lives have become intolerable to them the right to end their suffering in a peaceful and dignified way and not in one of the horror scenarios available under the current law.

42 Comments:

  1. Well done Brian! A right to lifer diligently at work a both ends of the life cycle one would assume. But don’t be too harsh on him. While he didn’t mention it he’s clearly following “thou shalt not kill” by the book and like too many sadly, has no grip on reality.

  2. Yes, well done Brian.

    Professor Richmond is an emeritus Professor of Geriatric Medicine and a retired physician and palliative care specialist. He must have seen quite a lot of suffering in his time, so his failure to be moved is all the more inexplicable.

    I assume that, during his lengthy career, he never once delivered a dose of morphine more than was necessary to ameliorate pain?

    Having just supported a close friend through the sudden and rapid decline of her father – six months from a diagnosis of cancer to his death – I can attest that in one case at least palliative care physicians administered enough morphine to keep the patient comatose, but alive, for week after seemingly pointless week.

    Such has been the speed of his decline that his family felt they hadn’t got to properly say their goodbyes. Because they were too distressed to do so, it fell to me to approach the senior consultant and have the morphine wound back so that he was conscious for a while, though not in intolerable pain, and they got to say what they needed to.

    Surely in that case, and no doubt many others, the humane response would be to have placed the patient on a regimen that left him conscious, informed him and the family that they should say their goodbyes and then, when everyone had come to terms with the situation, turned it up so that his suffering was at an end.

    And if the emeritus professor believes there’s no legal prohibition against “being killed without a specific request” I invite him to have a go at bumping off a healthy person who’s clearly not ready to depart, and see what happens. If he cares to accept my challenge, I’ll even provide him with a list of worthy candidates…

    • I was unaware of Professor Richmond’S background. That background of palliative care is clearly at odds with any suggestion that this could be a person indifferent to human suffering. But it may not be at odds with the notion that human life is so precious that it must be preserved at all costs, including the cost to a person who is tired of living and does not wish to carry on. The assisted peaceful death which this young woman is seeking is currently denied her under the law. Her current options include: swallowing huge numbers of pills; hanging herself; taking poison; throwing herself off a cliff; driving her car into a wall; sitting in her car with the garage door closed and turning on the engine; putting a plastic bag over her head. None of these is failsafe and each constitutes a dreadful and lonely way to die. A civilised society can surely do better than this.

  3. I’m not against assisted suicide but the Professor has raised issues that I find concerning. I didn’t find him bigoted and given his apparent profession would be inclined to hear him out.

    • You’re right. I shouldn’t have called the group “bigots”. I was pretty angry at receiving this material in my inbox. I’ve removed the entire sentence and withdraw the comment.

  4. Most of all the topic needs a wide public discussion.It pops up then disappears and there is no forum for serious discussion. In our Open Society we should be discussing this.

    • Agreed.

    • Really?!

      Maybe it is just me, but I seem to see it discussed continually, certainly since the bill in Parliament failed a number of years ago.

      I’d suggest that those who want a “serious discussion” (translation: we want a change to the status quo) concerning euthanasia need to do one thing if they are to be successful:

      Show how such a change can be implemented so that folks who maybe DON’T want to be euthanised are not pressured and pushed down that road.

      In other words, how could any legal reform be honoured, rather than abused as per the 1977 Abortion reforms? No one in New Zealand then would have envisaged over 10,000 abortions a year – no matter whether you think abortion is good, bad, or a necessary ‘evil’.

      • 4.2.1

        Curious why you are concerned that people may be pressured to favour euthanasia but unconcerned they are not only pressured but heavily sanctioned in the opposite direction?

        • Death has a finality about it. If you get it wrong, you can’t reverse it.

          But then, while the intellectual jousting over the issue takes up effort, that is not where the matter will be won and lost. Ultimately this is a gut-instinct issue, and the risk of grannies being railroaded to an early death so their estate can be liquidadted and distributed among their heirs will, at present, out-trump the tragic stories of the likes of Lecretia Seales.

          Irrespective of my personal feelings on euthanasia (I’m actually ambivalent), I don’t make the rules on the framing of this debate. I just report them.

          • 4.2.1.1.1

            We are already getting it wrong in too many cases. There is very little risk of grannies being railroaded given the professional consequences for any doctor who facilitated that. There is in the region of 80% public support for a law change. Nothing will appease the remaining fanatics who think God is on their side and are impervious to facts and logic. Only public pressure on the politicians sufficient to allay their fears of losing that minority vote will change the law. Meanwhile many suffer in all kinds of ways, physical and mental.

            • 4.2.1.1.1.1

              All of which may indeed be correct (and like Brian, thanks for your personal perspective. I have family members who went through the same thing, and despite personal Judaeo-Christian beliefs are entirely supportive of euthanasia.). I’m not sure, however, if the Dutch experience bares out what you say, but there is so much propaganda over this this issue.

              However, I don’t know if the “public pressure” on politicians is going to work. It didn’t last time, despite “polling” showing a majority in favour of reform.

              Most MPs, other than “the remaining fanatics who think God is on their side and are impervious to facts and logic” are not conviction politicians. Not on this matter, anyway. Hence the relative safety of the status quo and the arguably intellectually-threadbare resort to the “slippery slope” argument. It is more palatable than the risk of forever being tarred with the brush, “you voted in favour of killing people”.

              • 4.2.1.1.1.1.1

                This is a classic demonstration of why we need binding citizen’s initiated referenda to protect the majority from minority manipulation of parliament. That removes the pressure on MPs blackmailed ny the potential loss of 10% of their votes.

  5. Assisted suicide and euthanasia aren’t the same thing—it’s an important distinction. Euthanasia is someone else making the decision for you; asssisted suicide is acting on your wishes (as the patient).

    • 5.1

      Excellent point.

    • Correct. The term “voluntary euthanasia” seems to cover it quite well.

    • Just so. I certainly dread the thought that I or my loved ones may end up in the appalling kind of situation Alan Wilkinson and others have eloquently described. I suspect that in this country, as well as the formal adherents to Christian church doctrines, there are other non-churchgoers who retain the church views on these matters. The church position in essence is simple – “you don’t own your life, God does” – and it’s not very long ago that attempted suicide was a crime (though punishment for it was difficult when attempts succeeded).

      • 5.3.1

        IIRC Aristotle thought that suicide was a crime against the state (depriving it of a citizen). How attitudes have changed.

    • 5.4

      No. Euthanasia is someone else administering the cause of death (called active euthanasia), or not saving the patient when they could keep them alive (so called passive euthanasia).

      Assisted suicide is generally when someone else provides the means but the patient administers the cause of death themselves (by swallowing pills, or by clicking a button which releases a lethal dose, as was the case in Australia back in the 1990s).

      These aren’t precise distinctions, as turning off life support could reasonably be conceptualised as active or passive euthanasia.

      The other distinction is between voluntary, involuntary and non-voluntary euthanasia. Voluntary involves the informed consent of the patient, involuntary is against the wishes of the patient (basically murder) and non-voluntary is where the patient is unable to consent. That gives you six types.

      The only ones that tend to be a matter of controversy are voluntary active euthanasia and assisted suicide. The others are either legal or obviously prohibited or in the case of non-voluntary active euthanasia, are being left until the debate about voluntary active euthanasia is decided.

      The best argument for VAE is that there is no real moral difference between and VPE, and the latter is legal and widely practiced (switching off life support, DNR orders, refusal of treatment), so it’s simply irrational of us to allow the latter, but not the former.

  6. I have a very personal experience with this issue my wife succumbing to motor neurone disease in 2013. There is nothing more ghastly than watching your beloved wasting away unable to eat looking like a Somalian famine victim while so heavily sedated with morphine there is no knowing whether she has any sense of your presence. Not being able properly to say goodbye still hurts deeply.

    Yes, the Hospice organisation is wonderful but there is something deeply inhuman about what we were forced to undergo.

    We have laws to sanction unacceptable behaviour. Pretending they can’t be applied to ring fence assisted suicide is simply unacceptable and we have a small minority of busybody fanatics oppressing the majority on this issue.

    Yes, the same situation pertained with abortion and the politicians appeased the fanatics with a system that pretended to serve their interests but didn’t. I don’t advocate a similar subterfuge. The world has currently had a guts full of fanatics.

    • Judy and I both thank you for sharing this, Alan. And nothing could make the point better.

    • My heart goes out to you, Alan. I have watched two friends die from motor neuron disease and am currently watching a third. I can only imagine how it is for them, brain fully functional but, gradually, every other function packing up.
      Your words:- “Not being able properly to say goodbye still hurts deeply.” touches me deeply. Yet another reminder for me to learn to live gracefully so that, hopefully, I will die gracefully.

    • 6.3

      Thanks folks. Reading this brought a few tears again.

      • 6.3.1

        It takes a real man to cry.
        And to help a loved one end their suffering.
        It’s a shame the law did not allow you to do so.

        • 6.3.1.1

          Thanks John. I could tell you more but I think it is too painful. When you have been married 45 years it is not the way you wanted it to end or ever dreamt that it would. It is a terrible disease and unfortunately seems to be increasing in frequency. We can only hope for some breakthroughs in medical research and brain chemistry.

  7. As I contemplate my own mortality as an older person, I seriously wonder what will happen to my family when/if I get one of those terrible wasting disease of the body or the mind.(60% of older people fear dementia most.) The need to be able to withdraw from life with dignity if needed seems to be a critical factor.
    Not just those “other people” that we talk about, but me or you.

    • Cyanide capsules could be the answer. Instant, painless, no mess, no fuss and proven effective by Nazi war criminals like Himmler and Goering, who “with dignity” evaded the hangman’s noose. Whoops, do I see an article on Capital punishment coming.

  8. Brian

    Laws are generally put in place not to impose one person’s morality on another but to protect people from harm and abuse. Thus it is entirely appropriate to raise the issue of potential abuse if euthanasia were to be legalised. and in a civilised debate one should be allowed to do this with out being personally attacked for it.

    There is substantial evidence of abuse coming out of places like the Netherlands and Belgium, where euthanasia has been legalised, for example:
    A 2012 Lancet study found that 272 Dutch people were euthanised in 2010 without their consent. In half of these cases the doctor made the decision without consulting a colleague and in a quarter of these cases the doctor didn’t discuss it with either the patient, the patient’s relatives or a colleague.

    And in Belgium:
    A 2010 CMAJ study found that 32% of assisted deaths occurred without the patient’s explicit request. More than 90% of victims were older than 80 – a vulnerable demographic group that was also confirmed by a 2009 NEJM study.

    • 8.1

      References please.

      How many people are euthanised without their consent in countries where it is illegal, simply by forms of withholding treatment or heavy dose prescription where doctors and family decide further medical prolonging of life is futile?

      I would want to see the evidence and criteria for these claims before accepting them. After all, such actions as claimed or portrayed are criminal. How many were actually prosecuted?

      • Hi Alan,
        I thought I had posted a response with the references last night. Anyway here they are:
        The Lancet article:
        http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(12)61034-4/abstract

        The CMAJ article:
        http://www.cmaj.ca/content/early/2010/05/17/cmaj.091876.full.pdf+html

        Withholding medical treatment isn’t euthanasia. If treatment is withheld and the patient dies it will be the medical condition that causes the death. Whereas euthanasia is when doctors (or in some cases nurses) directly and intentionally kill a patient by administering a lethal dose of medication.

        To my knowledge I don’t think any doctors have been criminally prosecuted. Part of the reason for this is that many of the cases where safeguards/regulations are not followed are also not reported.

        • 8.1.1.1

          I had a quick look at those papers and I think you are misrepresenting as a cause for concern quite normal medical treatments where the patient is in near death with no prospect of recovery and incapable of consent for various reasons. There is no indication I saw in them of any increase in such treatments since the euthanasia legislation was enacted or that there was any reason to believe these patients were mistreated.

          Any evidence to the contrary?

        • 8.1.1.2

          ” If treatment is withheld and the patient dies it will be the medical condition that causes the death”
          I am haunted by the words of a traumatised woman, the daughter of an elderly Mother suffering from a medical condition. Through her tears and grief the daughter relayed to me her desperation and helplessness at her Mothers end of life care. All treatment including fluids being withheld until she finally died; the only fluid being allowed by medical professionals was a moist swab applied to dry lips and mouth. The agony of the inhumane suffering remains with the daughter in nightmarish memories of her darling Mother trying desperately to suck water from the swab, to quench her thirst. How else could this palliative care have been managed? How common is this kind of treatment? Is this kind of treatment legal?

    • 8.2

      Reportedly the Dutch legislation is frequently misrepresented by euthanasia opponents:
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Euthanasia_in_the_Netherlands

      I think I am right to be sceptical. This is a 2014 Lancet article that makes no such adverse assertions:
      http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(14)61154-5/fulltext

      • I agree that there is misinformation and some scaremongering/exaggeration surrounding this issue. So it is important to check facts.

        the Lancet article you referenced does not deal directly with the issue of how euthanasia deaths are being carried out. It is only a discussion as to if assisted suicide is perhaps safer than euthanasia.

        Which actually presupposes a recognition of problems with safeguarding euthanasia.

  9. The problem with so-called voluntary euthanasia is that it pretty quickly stops being voluntary and starts being involuntary.
    This has happened in a major way in countries which have already legalised euthanasia. Key proponent for a law change, Dr Jonquiere, recently boasted on his speaking tour of New Zealand that in his country (The Netherlands) there has been a big drop in euthanasia deaths without request from 0.7% in the late nineties to ‘only’ 0.2% in 2010….well this still equates to about 400 Dutch citizens put to death without asking for it each year, and thousands over several years.
    There is simply no way to make euthanasia safe in order to properly protect vulnerable people.
    This may be unpalatable to those who advocate a change but it needs to be faced.

  10. The problem with so-called voluntary euthanasia is that it pretty quickly stops being voluntary and starts being involuntary.
    This has happened in a major way in countries which have already legalised euthanasia. Key proponent Dr Jonquiere on his recent speaking tour boasted that in his country (The Netherlands) there has been a big drop in euthanasia deaths without request from 0.7% in the late nineties to ‘only’ 0.2% in 2010….well this still equates to about 400 Dutch citizens put to death without asking for it each year, and thousands over several years.
    It can’t be done – there are no safeguards that can properly protect people from legalised euthanasia.
    This may not be palatable to those who advocate a law change but it needs to be faced. Or do they accept a certain rate of ‘collateral damage’of ordinary folk as long as high-profile individuals are able to achieve their so-called ‘automony’?

  11. My father died 25 years ago of cancer, in a hospice. There was no level of palliative care then that could remediate even a small fraction of the horror he experienced, and as we have kept in touch with the medical area, my understanding is that in this area, and many others, the scope to provide comfort has barely moved on – the profoundest torture awaits many of us. I would really like folk who are so concerned about the slippery slope of a law change to speak to the horror of the status quo: tell me how it is better, tell me how you would justify going back to it if for some reason, we’d had hundreds of years of voluntary euthanasia regime instead by some accident of history? The thing is if you brought the equivalent suffering on to an innocent victim in the street that is the fate of a proportion of cancer victims, you would face the rest of your life in jail, possibly (and ironically) even execution in places like America. Yet if an awful twist of fate sees you the victim of an error in your DNA that one day manifests as one of the worst cancers, suddenly we must let it run its course, there is no law against it, you must suffer your torture (I’m talking again, of that which is beyond the reach of palliative care, whether it’s relief from pain, or from the mental consequences e.g. my father despised drugs all his life, and yet the only option the hospice had for him and has for people like him now, was that he become as heavy a “user” as any doped out street walker – and this was okay, the system saw and sees no issue with this! – can you imagine what that was like for someone like that? As if terminal cancer is bad enough, the official, legal sytem, tells you your only option is to become a stoner at the end of your life, you must subvert one of the key principles you lived by).

  12. If we need to know what`s to come, we need to know what`s come before.A little research should help in this direction.Brian my doctor told me after my stroke to think before I open my mouth as I may say things to regret.You should do the same.

  13. Brian, and readers,

    It may not surprise you that many senior physicians work closely with the family, and the patient’s wishes. The patient must have a written and declared policy.
    I suggest people do this, I have.
    [ That is do not let me or yourselves suffer if I am finished ]
    Then the physician must consult with the family in the most subtle way possible. Sometimes members of family are overseas.
    This is critical. One mistake and you are in the history books. Remember every administration of a drug is recorded. It is usually done by withdrawing support for an apparently good reason. ie. The patient is showing adverse reaction to antibiotics.

    Well it was also so much simpler for me as a Vet. I just had to ask the daughter of the parents if I could put her dog down.
    paul scott

  14. Apart from the moral arguments used by both sides in this debate, the one important to most of us is the utilitarian one. A group of nurses are arguing that euthanising the terminally ill would have 2 practical advantages. Firstly, their time could be used attending to those whom they can assist to recover. Secondly, money spent on the dying would be better spent in other fields of medicine.