Posted from revtalk.co.nz.

Euthanasia is supposed to be about ‘choice’. But poverty removes choice so euthanasia will kill Maori, the poor, the disabled, the marginalised and New Zealand will never talk about it. RevHirini shares his thoughts.

I’m sure many of us have experienced death of a loved one up close. It’s part of the joys and pains of whanau. Those final days or hours in the hospital are both painful and sad and hopefully full of good memories and precious time with whanau. I have experienced that this year with the passing of my father, and have experienced it many times both with my own whanau and as part of my ministry supporting other whanau.

Labour MP Maryan Street currently has a bill in the parliamentary ballot called ‘End of Life Choice Bill’. Apparently if you use words like ‘choice’ it must be voluntary. The Bill claims all types of safeguards for those involved, which would be good. People who want to opt for this will need to be signed off on by two doctors who will testify that it is actually a clear choice, and that they understand the consequences. Doctors are also protected in that they don’t have to be involved, and the whanau member who will ‘pull the plug’ will also be looked after. I’m sure she has the best of intentions in her Bill.

The problem is, what is ‘choice’? For the middle class advocates who have been pushing this issue, ‘choice’ is a wonderful thing. Shall I lie here in pain, or choose to end the struggle now in the love of my family? Good stuff, beautiful stuff.

But what I also know will happen is that those on the margins will have less ‘choice’. When their whanau can’t afford the petrol to come and visit them in hospital, when they don’t like the nurses and doctors, when the power bill is due at home, when you are whakama (ashamed) of your situation – you name it, the problems mount up for poor sick people far beyond the medical. I know this well from my whanau experience and my experience as a minister in these situations. Then, the ‘choice’ becomes much clearer.

And what doctor will say ‘actually, your choice is influenced too much by your poverty?’ The coercion of poverty is subtle. Every day the medical profession, with the best intentions, make choices around the treatment of patients which essentially are based on socio-economic reasoning as much as the medical. ‘Due to the lack of resources we won’t treat that aging Maori who smokes and is obese…’ – and we accept that brutal choice as a society.

The example is abortion. I believe in a woman’s right to make choices over their own bodies, absolutely. However why are Maori the biggest users of abortion services? We call the womb the whare tangata, the home of humankind. For that reason alone, abortion is incompatible with our cultural understandings. My point is that even though we should be low down the list, economics and poverty take away our ‘choice’ and we are at the top with 40000 Maori abortions in the past 10 years. And it will be the same with euthanasia.

It’s no coincidence that the most vocal opponents of euthanasia internationally are disabled activist groups. They fear that euthanasia legislation places relative values on human life around the concept of ‘happiness’ or ‘dignity’, and of course there is an assumption by the able-bodied that disabled people are less happy and have a lower quality of life – therefore they are good to go.

New Zealand is, and always has been, a brutal society. We like to live the myths that make us comfortable. Once New Zealand lived with a myth of civilising Empire but built a settler society (including Church) on land taken by force and law. From the 1960s the historian Keith Sinclair started the myth of egalitarian nation-building using number eight wire. Unfortunately the truth is we are amongst the worst in the Western world for income disparity, for child poverty, for incarceration, for poor people’s health, and on and on – we treat our marginalised brutally.

Others will address issues over the sanctity of life, the theology of the power of life and death over others. My contribution is towards thinking about how we look after the least and the marginalised. New Zealand is really not good at doing that. And we as a nation are not good at discussing these issues. When was the last time we seriously talked about abortion rates? Maori leadership are very quiet on child abuse, and silent on abortion – and I suspect they will be silent on this. The Churches are either self-absorbed or so extreme no one will listen. The media has the concentration span of gnats, and the politicians listen to the last opinion poll they were given. Well, we will start euthanasia and we will never look back again.

And to our whanau who may read this, or share it, I have a simple message. Don’t do it. I’m sure the legislation will pass, and the floodgates will open. However, just because something is legal, doesn’t mean it is right. Palliative care (care for the dying) is getting better all the time, and life remains sacred. So don’t do it.

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Further Reading

Maryan Street’s Bill http://blog.labour.org.nz/2012/03/27/time-for-a-difficult-conversation-again/

Canadian disabled activist groups on the proposed Canadian legislation http://www.disabilitynow.org.uk/latest-news2/world-view/fighting-for-our-lives-canadas-chill-wind-of-euthanasia

Salvation Army opposition to Bill http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/PO1203/S00326/end-of-life-choice-may-lead-to-pressure.htm

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