The End of Life Choice Bill misunderstands what it means to live and to die.
Life and death are not individual events. There are very few people who are on the Earth by themselves. We exist as part of our families, our whānau and our communities. For many Māori, death is a process the whole whānau goes through together because the whānau is farewelling a part of itself. It’s a really important time in all of our lives when we are farewelling somebody we love and care for. It is the responsibility of all of us to be at one with one another. The End of Life Choice Bill would invade this sacred space. The bill would allow a person to request a euthanasia death without talking to their family, and a person could be killed without the family knowing. In treating the dying person only as an individual and not as a whānau member, the bill misunderstands what it means to live and to die.
I feel quite sad about this bill because it undermines the essential things we believe in as tangata whenua, saying that that’s of no consequence. People, whether they be terminally ill, disabled, or old, are still members of families. It doesn’t matter what their circumstances are. About three years ago my husband George had a heart attack and a stroke. He was in intensive care, and a doctor said to me that she would hope I wouldn’t expect them to resuscitate him.
And I thought , “Wow.” So I said to her, “I don’t think I would expect you to do anything for my husband. In fact, as soon as he is well enough, we will go home, and we will decide what treatment he will receive.” So we took George home, and right through that first year, we’re being told he could go at any time.
But, you know, he’s still alive. We all care for him. A grandson gave his job up in Wellington and came to Whanganui to help me look after his grandfather. People need to live in a safe, happy environment, to be loved within their family, to have the family there to help them do what they need to do.
I know there are many people who don’t have that safe, happy environment, who have dysfunctional families, and who can’t afford the medications and support they need. I have a friend whose boy has cystic fibrosis. His medication costs thousands of dollars a month. And we know of women with particular types of breast cancer who can get the medication they need to survive only if they are able to pay for it. How do we have a system that doesn’t cover necessary medications? I wouldn’t want anyone choosing a euthanasia death simply because they can’t afford treatment.
When I was the Minister for Disabilities there were lots of issues for the disability community — lack of sufficient support, barriers to access, and societal prejudice. But no one from that
community ever said to me they wanted to get assistance to die. They wanted to be assisted to live, in the fullest way possible for them. I’ve seen some pretty amazing people in my lifetime and it’s been a privilege to be a part of their lives. They don’t just want to be alive, they want to be able to do the things that are really important to them. And instead of including them on the list of people who can get assistance to die, we should be ensuring they have every assistance to live. I would say to MPs, the End of Life Choice Bill is not something you should bevoting for. MPs are there to run the country, not to make such significant decisions about life and death. They’re there to run our country and I can’t see how eutha nasia contributes to the overall well-being of whānau and communities.
Death is not a parliamentary matter, it is a family matter. We exist in families, and we should be cared for to the end in our families. The state can and should support our families and whānau to care for us when we are disabled, ill and old.
But it should not pass a law that undercuts our families and whānau and makes death an option for those with limited resources and insufficient support.
Dame Tariana Turia (Ngāti Apa, Ngā Rauru, Tūwharetoa) NZ Herald 2 April 2019.