MPs thought carefully on euthanasia

PHOTOS: PARLIAMENT TV
PHOTOS: PARLIAMENT TV
Not every issue politicians debate is a matter of life and death but on Wednesday that was, literally, the topic of the day.

After an incredibly long process, one which was astutely and fairly managed by its sponsor Act leader David Seymour, on Wednesday night the End of  Life Choice Bill almost became law.

There is, of course, one final hurdle for the legislation to overcome, that being the referendum on the issue which was the price paid for New Zealand First's support of the Bill.

Opinion polling, a much criticised science to be sure, suggests the public will back law reform in 2020 - in the June 1 News Colmar Brunton poll, 72% of people said they supported a person with a terminal or incurable illness being able to ask a doctor to end their life.

For Southern MPs, that poll result is reversed: two-thirds voted against the Bill in what was a conscience vote for most parties.

Clutha Southland New Zealand First list MP Mark Patterson's position was pre-ordained due to his party's stance on making the issue subject to referendum.

It can be argued, as many have, that this stance abdicates the principle of representative government, but it is also one which the party has held to steadfastly, so it could hardly have come as a surprise to anyone.

Dunedin South Labour MP Clare Curran spoke for the first time in the debate on Wednesday.

She told the House that when in her 20s a friend from her days at the University of Otago had introduced her to his terminally ill mother.

"Unbeknown to me, she was determined to leave the world, which she did at a time of her own choosing with the help of her son.

"I remember feeling very confronted by this, but I never judged her decision or that of her son to assist her.

"I believe that it was her choice, made in full knowledge of the implications, and this is what I want for myself should it ever be necessary."

Labour Invercargill list MP Liz Craig has kept out of the Parliamentary debate, but her vote in favour makes an interesting contrast with the vote against by National's Shane Reti - who made a powerful contribution to Wednesday's debate.

Both are doctors, both had professional interests to consider when taking a stance, but they came down on different sides of the argument.

Dr Craig said she had experienced death both as a family member and friend but also from a medical perspective.

What reassured her concerns were the tight restrictions in the Bill that assisted dying would only be available for terminal conditions, after several safeguards were met, and also that doctors could not initiate a discussion about assisted dying.

Having looked after people at the end of their lives, Dr Craig ultimately decided it was right to allow them their own choice as to what they wanted to do.

Like Mr Patterson, Dr Craig felt the issue was one suited for a referendum and was glad the public would get a say.

Of the local MPs opposed to the Bill, only National Dunedin list MP Michael Woodhouse spoke on Wednesday.

"I would support this Bill if it were restricted to cover only those conditions that are resistant to effective palliative care," he said.

"Of course, we're not - we're talking about a much broader range of self-declared irremediable conditions."

A former hospital administrator, his opposition has also been grounded on the failure of his proposed amendment to the Bill which would have allowed institutions to conscientiously object to taking part in end of life procedures.

As noted in Southern Say previously, Dunedin North MP David Clark supported his rival's amendment and proposed it in his absence overseas.

Dr Clark earlier said his most fundamental concern with the legislation was his belief that sanctioning euthanasia made it easier for vulnerable people to feel that the most appropriate option was to take their own life, and that it was very difficult to ensure protection sufficient to preclude this ever happening.

Invercargill National MP Sarah Dowie had a similar reason for voting no, raising the "burden" argument.

Ms Dowie sat on the health select committee in the previous Parliament when it considered Maryan Street's euthanasia petition - an experience she calls one of her most harrowing as an MP.

After consulting extensively with people on both sides of the debate, Ms Dowie ultimately decided no amount of safeguards could be put in place to prevent the legislation being misused.

Her position is similar to that of fellow National MP Jacqui Dean, who has consistently opposed the Bill for that reason, and also Clutha Southland National MP Hamish Walker.

Mr Walker is one of several MPs who changed their minds during the course of the debate.

Having supported the Bill to be referred to select committee, what Mr Walker heard at two public meetings he had organised on the issue swayed him towards voting no.

Parliament has spoken, though, and now it is over to the public to decide.

Parking woes

As Mr Walker noted when rising to take a call in Tuesday night's debate on the Land Transport (Wheel Clamping) Amendment Bill, this is not a big issue in his electorate: while Gore does have part-time parking wardens, Queenstown is the only part of his electorate where it might be hard to find a car park, let alone risk being clamped.

However, it was National colleague Denise Lee who was in Mr Walker's sights, as he gave her a gentle ribbing for having had her vehicle towed after parking in the wrong place while she attended Saturday's U2 concert.

"Denise, it may pay for you to move down to Clutha-Southland, and your car won't be towed," Mr Walker suggested.

Be careful what you wish for

Mr Woodhouse received a sharp slap down from Associate Health Minister Jenny Salesa on Thursday when he asked if the Government was going to commit to rebuilding Wakari Hospital.

"The Member when he was a Minister of Health sure had a long time to actually make that announcement himself," she said.

Leaving aside the fact that Mr Woodhouse was never a Minister of Health, Mrs Salesa's opening comment that "the Member will just have to wait patiently for further announcements", did offer hope news regarding the rundown hospital may be on its way.

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