Bill Ralston: Why I want the euthanasia bill established in law

by Bill Ralston / 14 March, 2018

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The End of Life Choice Bill is trudging through the parliamentary process after passing its first reading.

We reformed the abortion laws and we decriminalised homosexuality. Now we must grapple with the ethical and moral challenges posed by voluntary euthanasia.

The End of Life Choice Bill is trudging through the parliamentary process after passing its first reading 76 votes to 44 and being referred to the justice select committee, which had received more than 14,000 submissions by the deadline last Tuesday. After the committee hearings and debate in the House, the bill will, I predict, become law.

Over the coming weeks, we will no doubt hear many anguished arguments against euthanasia, but the last poll done on the issue showed only 20% of people were opposed to the concept. It will come down to a conscience vote, but many MPs will find their moral qualms assuaged when they consider that two-thirds of the country back the idea of a law change.

The bill’s sponsor is Act MP David Seymour, a Mr Bean-like figure around Parliament, whom I have always enjoyed watching in action. I admire his often counterfactual style of reasoning: when you are in a parliamentary caucus of one and in Opposition, most of your arguments tend to be counterfactual.

I should mention at this point that my end of life choice is to die of natural causes, in bed, immediately post coitus, after a beautiful meal, with a drink in my hand, having just read a congratulatory telegram from the monarch on having made it to the age of 100. This is a bit optimistic, I know, but I cannot see many circumstances where I would want to end it all by my own hand.

If I were permanently bedridden, I would be quite content as long as I had plenty of books. I sit reading in my big red leather chair in the living room for so much of the day that my dearly beloved often expresses her opinion that I am somehow already paralysed. A drinks trolley by the bed would be nice, too.

A friend of mine says that she will take up heroin at 80 because, by that stage, it won’t be able to do her much harm and she may as well go into her dotage in drug-induced bliss. That seems a bit extreme.

I have been assured by doctors that there is no reason for people to die in pain, but in my experience of visiting deathbeds, terrible distress often appears to be present. If I were the one suffering at death’s door, I would want to hastily summon the nurse for a drug that would speed my exit from God’s waiting room.

Some doctors assure me that is exactly what does happen when people are close to death and in pain, but I would not like to leave it to chance that a passing medical specialist would be sympathetic. I want the “speedy exit” clause established in law.

Most doctors and nurses oppose voluntary euthanasia, presumably because they don’t want the job of administering the coup de grâce. But if they won’t do the deed, more people would be driven to do it themselves. This is not good.

I know for a fact that I would botch my own suicide, should it be required. If I decided to shoot myself, it would be accidentally in the foot rather than the head. And any form of DIY departure is likely to prove extremely painful due to my woeful inadequacy in doing anything practical.

Can we have a legal, formalised check-out procedure, please?

This article was first published in the March 17, 2018 issue of the New Zealand Listener.

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