Palliative care vs assisted dying: A false dichotomy

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.

6 thoughts on “Palliative care vs assisted dying: A false dichotomy

  1. There are many cross-party groups at Parliament, some long-term, some short-lived. They have proliferated under MMP as our Parliament typically has six to eight parties represented.

    All rely on mutual trust between MPs and a clear understanding of the ground rules. They provide an effective way for MPs to informally discuss important issues. In a way, they work much as the whips work “through the usual channels.”

    The first group I was exposed to was the South Island MPs caucus formed at the end of 1996 at, if I remember correctly, the instigation of Ron Mark and Mike Moore. The agreed rules were clear and were honoured: no-one to speak for the group, meeting to discuss issues and find common ground, and the group not to exist to bag Ministers. They got on well.

    Today it seems, the convenor, and Hospice NZ’s PR consultants failed dismally. That there is a UK group promoting two objectives of palliative care and opposing euthanasia is one thing. To ambush New Zealand MPs with an invite saying one thing and pursuing the other is appalling. Ms Barry it would seem has destroyed any trust she might have earned in her short time in the House.

  2. You might be interested to know that Sean Plunkett on ZB this morning was arguing the line, that all we needed was better palliative care and that euthanasia was not allowing a “natural” death process.

    It appears to be a PR offensive he was in on.

  3. I happened to hear Sean today. The most disturbing thing he said was something like “others can’t choose your time; you’re not even allowed to choose your time”. It had a distinctly religious flavour.

    I fully accept that people of goodwill are going to differ on this topic, but one’s own religion is the worst argument for denying others the right to die as they please.

  4. It is virtually essential that people disagree, because any (compromise) outcome will be a tenuous one and not one we can (should) ever be comfortable with.

    Humanity has never accepted natural limits – we organise to confront hunger and disease (rather than bow down to the fatalism demanded by pagan gods). Also to combat the result of accidents and acts of violence. We accept mortality, but only grudgingly. All medicine is a fight against (natural) consequences, including care for the terminally ill.

    Our problem is the capacity to fight against illness, accident and death are growing exponentially, but our resources to do so are finite. We face an aging population and related rising health costs, also aged care facility cost growth – and the likely rationing will cause hardship. This will mean those who can afford private care will do so for themselves or this will come from their children. This quite apart from affording palliative care for terminally ill (the numbers and cost will be increasing here as well).

    Talk about simply affording palliative care as an answer, instead of allowing euthanasia, is rhetoric – there will be no guarantee of funding. Yet allowing euthanasia comes with risk of using it as a tool of cost limitation (the willingness of the aged not to be a burden on their children let alone the loss of quality of life becoming unbearable).

    There is no good answer, just the attempt of man to manage an impossible predicament.

  5. Deceit is the word.

    Maggie Barry, apart form being an egregious political hack, nailed her colours to the mast in yesterday’s Herald article.

    She made it quite clear that any cross party exercise was a ploy to bolster her own pre-established position under the guise of cross-bench impartial discussion.

    It’s a shame you got pulled into this self-promotional stunt KH and as you rightly suggest, Barrie and her ham-fisted designs should be publicly spurned.

    Any vague political credibility that Barrie though she may have had is well and truly destroyed and she rightly deserves ridicule.

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