Brooke van Velden: End of Life Choice Act gives Bobbie the choice she deserves

Credit: Original article can be found here

Bobbie Carroll spoke to the Herald in 2017 about her terminal cancer.

OPINION:

Bobbie Carroll has lived an incredible life filled with choices. She’s been diagnosed with a terminal blood cancer called multiple myeloma and she would like choice in how she dies. There’s no better way to put what that’s like than in her own words.

She says: “When the time comes for me to die, I would like my partner of 30 years, my children, my grandchildren and our closest friends with me. I don’t want to be alone when I die. I’d like to have a party, actually. I’d like to attend my own funeral. I want it to be happy, like my life has been. I want to be with the people I love, like my life has been.

“In this day and age, there’s no need to have a long lingering death or to suffer excruciating pain. I’ve been an independent woman most of my life, and I’ve made choices for myself. I brought up kiddies, and I have grandkiddies now. I’m an independent woman. I would like to have some control over how I die.

“It’s my life, it’s my choice.”

This Sunday, the End of Life Choice Act comes into effect. New Zealanders will be able to choose assisted dying, if they meet strict criteria.

Two doctors must agree that they have a terminal condition likely to end their life within six months, and are capable of making their own decision. Most importantly, it must be established that in the person’s view, fully informed with the facts, that there’s no other satisfactory way to alleviate their suffering.

The second doctor is randomly selected by the Ministry of Health, and there is rigorous reporting at every step of the process.

Most of us will live long and healthy lives up to a comfortable death. Sadly, some of us will get ill. Some of us will receive shocking news that we have a terminal illness, but palliative care will deliver comfort. Any one of us could find ourselves in the final situation, dying badly in pain, and unable to be helped by even the best palliative care.

As the Supreme Court of Canada ruled, the choices available to people suffering badly up to this point have been cruel – taking matters into their own hands, refusing treatment, food and water, or suffering on until the bitter end. It’s been a terrible state of affairs.

Everyone should be free to choose to die in dignity and without pain. Photo / Getty Images
Everyone should be free to choose to die in dignity and without pain. Photo / Getty Images

We know from other countries around the world that most people who ask to access assisted dying don’t end up using it. Just knowing there’s a choice available, even if they don’t take it, makes facing the suffering a little bit more bearable.

Kiwis have led the world in so many ways, but not with Assisted Dying. Hundreds of millions of people have had access to this in places like Canada, Belgium, the Netherlands, Switzerland, various states of Australia, and the United States where Assisted Dying has been legal for up to 24 years.

It has taken decades of dedicated work from human rights campaigners to allow New Zealanders self-determination over the end of their lives.

Michael Laws brought the Dying with Dignity Bill to Parliament 26 years ago. Peter Brown tried again in 2003. Both were voted down. Maryan Street’s Bill was withdrawn in 2013. David Seymour introduced the End of Life Choice Bill to Parliament in 2015. It took a team from across Parliament and outside five years, David turning down a ministerial position, and a referendum before it succeeded.

For me, it’s about how we treat the most vulnerable members in our society. Who in our society could be more vulnerable than those diagnosed with a terminal illness, suffering in their last weeks and days?

How do we treat them? Nobody likes talking about death but it’s unavoidable. Do we tell them they must suffer some more, for the sake of someone else’s morality, or make better laws to give them choice? We looked the other way while our fellow citizens suffered for too long.

Thankfully, New Zealanders answered this question last year. Our country spoke loud and clear in the referendum, two to one in favour of choice.

Everyone should be free to choose to die in dignity and without pain, and on Sunday that goal so many have worked so hard to achieve for so long, will finally be real for Bobbie and for every one of us who could be her.

Brooke van Velden is the Act Party deputy leader.