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Bill Ralston: Why can't MPs make up their minds about euthanasia?

The fact that assisted dying will be put to the public, along with the cannabis referendum, raises the question of why we elect MPs in the first place.

If I were seriously ill with no hope of returning to a normal life, bedridden, dribbling, incontinent, going gaga and in pain, I would like to be able to pull the plug on what was keeping me going and drift off into eternal sleep, or rather, death.

The way Parliament is going, it looks as if we will get a euthanasia referendum at the next election and, if the past decade’s opinion polls are right, between 60% and 80% of people will vote for it. But if euthanasia, or, as it is more euphemistically known, “assisted dying”, passes into law, how much will really change?

All the medics I have spoken to – both doctors and nurses – insist that when a person is on their deathbed, the medical profession already assists the dying process by upping the drug intake to the point where the patient quietly croaks. This is quite nice of them, especially if you are in horrible pain. Those same doctors and nurses also insist no one should die in pain, but that tends to deny the evidence of my own eyes over the years.

Read more: Why the euthanasia bill doesn't go far enough | The Dutch ethics professor who changed his mind on euthanasia

The problem with “assisted dying” is that there may be few medics willing to assist in the process once it becomes a public one under what would be the End of Life Choice Act. Annoyingly, they maintain their job is to save lives, not end them, which is fair enough. Perhaps we will have to follow the practice of a century or so ago and appoint a public executioner who will call around and do you that big favour when you feel like checking out.

Now that I think about it, I wouldn’t mind that job. There are a few people whom I would happily despatch (even if they didn’t want it). Top of my list would be the wusses in Parliament who decided the whole matter needed to be put to a public vote before it came into law. Why bother to vote for MPs if they are not prepared to legislate as required without first being instructed by us? We might as well have a public referendum every week on every act going before Parliament and do away with more than a hundred expensive parliamentary salaries.

One odd thing about the End of Life Choice Bill is that it allows only people who are terminally ill to request voluntary euthanasia. If you have a terminal condition, it is going to happen anyway, so why hurry it up?

Patients who might have some argument to end it all are, say, people who, although not terminally ill, are so physically wasted that they cannot benefit from living. However, they are excluded from this bill’s provisions.

This, I gather, is because MPs feared that some doddery old person such as me might decide they didn’t want to be a liability to their families any more. This seems a somewhat extreme reaction to family duties and I, for one, would insist on sticking around and being a pain in the bum to the kids.

It might be worth recalling that there are two referendums at the next election. The other one is to legalise recreational cannabis. If we vote “yes” to that, it might not be necessary to legalise euthanasia. The bedridden, dribbling, incontinent and gaga can just light up a big joint and, no longer in pain, be content with having a long lie-in for the rest of their stoned days.

This article was first published in the November 9, 2019 issue of the New Zealand Listener.