Raumati church leader urges Parliament to enact
‘dying with dignity’ Bill
By Alan Tristram (copy edited and abridged in minor ways)
The well-known human rights campaigner the Reverend John Murray, of Raumati, has
urged the Health Select Committee to back Maryan Street’s Bill which he says will allow people to die with dignity.
Mr Murray, who has been seriously ill, was forced to make his submission by telephone.
But his message is clear — the Bill is about ‘Choice and compassion’, not ‘suicide,”killing’ or even ‘murder.’
Mr Murray makes so many key points the Kapiti Independent is printing his (slightly edited) submission in full. Here it is:
CHOICE and COMPASSION
By John Murray
‘I will endeavour to explain these principles more fully later in the Submission.
But first I make an essential note to my submission about the accurate use of words. Please Watch your language …
I wish to make absolutely clear that this issue is about “dying, dying with dignity”
It is NOT — as some opponents to law change seem to insist by their choice of words to describe it — “suicide,” “killing,” or (even) “murder.”
It is about the free – and assisted – CHOICE of the person to die with dignity.
It is NOT about abuse ( real or possible), pressure of family or friends, or a “slippery slope”.
The use of the appropriate words is necessary to save your investigation from being emotionally manipulated.
EXPLANATION OF MY SUBMISSION
This is the essential focus for the law change
Pro: Today personal and social ethics are based on a growing awareness and practice of free choice.
In most matters, adult and responsible persons have the right under law, to choose whom they will marry, how they will vote, how they care or are cared for in sickness, eg Patientsʼ Rights
Con: People are no longer under the power of a “superior group” as in the past – under
the King, the local Lord, doctor or bishop … They cannot be forced by any law or authority to
obey the dictates of the powerful.
Note: Former laws were a mixture of ethics and power [ie control] — among them
some were good for the corporate and personal security of the community, but many were bad, binding people to the will of the educated and powerful.
This is the essential focus for law change.
It is the recognition of the personal freedom and responsibility of each person and of the growing maturity of society to care for the other.
Pro: this recognizes the continuing need to treat people more humanely as in their needs for health, housing, education, criminal punishment [eg the death penalty] and, more basically, to remove hindrances to ease peopleʼs unnecessary suffering.
Con: This is NOT a lack of ethics but a new ethic of human responsibility [compassion]
Compassion does not mean ‘indulging’ a person with what they want for the asking and it is not a disregard for the requirements of the law, but is a recognition of legitimate need in trying circumstances.
Note: This COMPASSION is the core teaching of all major religions – the Golden Rule ‘do for others as you would wish that they would do for you.’
This raises the basic questions that must be answered in this case – for the right to die with dignity? and for an end to suffering, body and soul?
This is a human right and the protection that law should give to such a right.
Why then are we continuing to discuss this proposed law change, when it seems that from history and experience, the basic answers are already given?
Source and Control of Social and Personal ethics
The history of our different cultures and belief systems is the seedbed of our behaviour — there has always been a struggle between ‘one law for the rich [and powerful] and half a dozen for the poor.’
Such popular wisdom highlights the fact that ethics and law constantly change over the years, and the balance between the rulers and the ruled is being reversed.
As an example, the Magna Carta (1215) is hailed as the basis of our democracy.
But in New Zealand, women were not ‘legally democratized’ until 1893, nearly 700 years later!
And as Hippocrates (ca 400BC) declared, medical men should ‘do no harm’ [not cause unnecessary pain] but medical authorities 2500 years later say that to help a person die and so make an end to their suffering, is ‘unethical and illegal.’
The question that confronts us all, is the need to re-interpret the basic right in our present world and not be tied down to old and out-of-date formulations or dogmas.
The issue before us, here in New Zealand in 2016, is how to re-interpret the old ethic, which had relevance in times past, in the new circumstances of todayʼs community.
The two major bodies opposing any change to the law:
- the Medical Council of New Zealand. But not all doctors are opposed
- and some Religious Bodies eg.the Roman Catholic Church – but not all Christians – or believers of other faiths are opposed.
(see results of medical enquiries  and Polls )
I therefore submit:
• that a doctorʼs (or nurseʼs) commitment is to treat [ie serve] a patient according to their condition and wishes [cf Patientʼs Rights] and NOT to make a patient obedient to an old code of conduct
• that a ministerʼs or priestʼs commitment is to support the person through the stages of their dying according to that understanding of their faith [or agnosticism] and NOT to leave the person, believer or agnostic, to continue suffering until until “GOD”chooses to end their life.
• NB as a child of a medical family and as a trained and practising pastor for many yearsʼ I believe that there is no meaning for a person, who is dying and asks to be relieved of the suffering, being kept alive, by whatever medicine or doctrine, to satisfy either the doctorʼs conscience or the Churchʼs teaching.
The prevailing question is how to change the law
This is NOT whether the present law needs to be changed.
Note: This question takes with the utmost sincerity the need to set sufficient safeguards against any forseeable abuse, which is the lawʼs primary purpose
This requires the new law to set standards into the future.
I submit the following as necessary and in the meantime, adequate, safeguards:
Age of choice – after consideration of 16 – 18 – 20, I propose that the age of choice should now be 18 – in line with the legal age for voting
Conditions for choice – after much consideration I would submit three grounds:
1 – terminal and incurable sickness [such as “cancer”] that threatens the patientʼs quality of life
2 – persistent and unbearable suffering which may continue to distress the person
3 – these conditions may also apply to the person who has consciously made an ‘Advance Directive’ , legally witnessed and signed, should they at some later date not be able, through “dementia”, to request dying with dignity.
counselling …. the person must make an informed decision after discussion with their doctor [or another consenting doctor] and with a trained counsellor
revocation …. a person may revoke a request at any time
family …… the closest next-of-kin to be informed and receive counselling as necessary.
the law ….. be informed of the decision and a record kept
These conditions would protect the rights of the person and the assisting doctor (and of the law).
The role of the Law: there is nothing inherently illegal or criminal in changing this law. The law is to protect the rights of the individual [NB Bill of Rights]
The law is to protect the assisting doctor [now liable for prosecution].
The law is to protect against abuse by defining the limits and conditions.
The role of the Medical profession, doctors and registered nurses, is to legalise doctors etc and allow them to act in serving their patients; to allow any doctors etc, for conscience sake to refuse to assist; to acknowledge assisted dying as part of end of life care NOT in any opposition to Hospice/palliative care but indeed as the final act of it.
Role of religion
The role of Religion [as may be relevant] is to care for the sick person with comfort and support in dying !; is to show that GOD is known in compassion and mercy.
The role of Parliament in the consideration of your duty to serve all the people is to recognize that the legislation changes in terms of human rights; to find out what people want rather than how people can fit into policy; to listen carefully to the “vox populi” [NB recent poll results].
In the end this is an act recognizing democratic rights
The Remaining Questions
- What hinders Parliament from changing the present law? is it fear? prejudice? electoral liability?
- What should be the present conditions of the new law?
- Do they meet peopleʼs needs? is there choice? is there compassion?
My hopes and prayers are with you in this vital task.