A necessary survival skill in this place is to be able to manage big differences of views on a daily basis, without becoming damaged by it. I’m usually quite good at it. I’m also a very big supporter of cross-Party approaches and working groups, and work hard to try to maintain good relationships right across the House. That usually goes pretty well too.
So when I got an invitation from Maggie Barry to come to an inaugural meeting of ‘Parliamentary Friends of Palliative Care’, of course I said yes. It’s in my portfolio and it’s something I have a long-term and very strong interest in.
Typically these cross-Party groups essentially consist of MPs. Sometimes they have an association with a community group, which may support the group with guest speakers etc, but mostly they are about MPs talking with each other across Party lines.
When I arrived at the meeting today it was to a room full of perhaps 70 people from outside Parliament and the full range of parliamentary media. We were given several different presentations, compered by Maggie. While there was some content on palliative care, the absolute focus of the meeting was on mounting arguments against voluntary euthanasia and assisted dying.
Now I believe there should be a very active public debate about Maryan Street’s Bill. I will both participate and listen with considerable interest, but I believe this needs to occur independent of debate over palliative care. It is just nonsensical to present palliative care and assisted dying as some sort of dichotomy between which society must choose. I personally believe in really great palliative care services. I also believe in assisted dying services. I resent the conflation of the two issues.
I also resent very considerably being lured to a harangue against assisted dying (not even a discussion) under false pretences. I believe it was deceitful of Maggie to invite MPs to a meeting about palliative care, but then to have different agenda, particularly in an environment where challenging or leaving would appear churlish and destructive.
But most of all I resent the cause of improved palliative care being coopted and exploited to advance another agenda. As a result of today’s experience I certainly won’t return, and am unlikely to again support Hospice NZ, who appear to have been in on the deception. Kind of a shame don’t you think?
Maggie has sought me out to tell me she didn’t intend to deceive in her invitation. Perhaps in her own mind the issues are linked and it was unnecessary to mention her intention that the meeting would be a rally against assisted dying. However I do not accept that explanation and have told her so.