Instead of a flag debate, how about a euthanasia debate?

Nearly half of Kiwi doctors are in favour of euthanasia, or physician-assisted dying (PAD), according to a survey covered in the New Zealand Medical Journal today.

This lags well behind public support for PAD, which was measured at 82 percent in January by researchers at the University of Auckland.

But the survey’s validity is being questioned by the NZMJ’s editors, who say it does “relatively little to further our knowledge”.

According to a letter to the NZMJ from Voluntary Euthanasia Society chairman Dr Jack Havill, 200 GPs in the Waikato District Health Board area were sent letters presenting three different scenarios concerning PAD. The survey’s results were based on 78 responses.

The first question asked: “Given adequate safeguards against abuse, do you support the passing of a law to allow a medical practitioner to give assistance to die, on request from a competent patient, 18 years and older, where the patient has end stage terminal disease (eg cancer), or is suffering from irreversible unbearable suffering (eg motor neurone disease, end stage respiratory failure)?”

Thirty-seven GPs (47.3 percent) said they support PAD in this situation. An equal number oppose it, and four are unsure.

This means you can always find a doctor that will say yes – allowing for your case to be genuine, of course. ?

Dr Havill says the results show nearly half of GPs “support or would probably support” euthanasia in certain circumstances, and that it is “reasonably certain” that New Zealand will adopt some form of PAD law in the next few years.

“Hopefully our professional medical and nursing bodies can take part in the framing of the law and regulations as this happens.”

“But nonetheless, that about 40 Waikato GPs would be willing to hasten the deaths of their patients, even if they are mentally incompetent, is noteworthy,” writes Assoc Prof Sandy Macleod of the Health Sciences Centre at the University of Canterbury.

“We certainly need to manage the dying better. We need good research, wise expert opinion and fair legislation. We lack these. Dying is not invariably easy, and clumsy medicine can aggravate it.

Anyone who has seen a loved one eaten to death a small bite at a time, taking away their dignity, their personality, and leaving no quality of life is going to find it very hard to deny requests for people to put an end so what is a slow painful slide towards natural death.

Last year, then-MP Maryan Street withdrew her End of Life Choice Bill in fear it would become an election year football. After she lost her seat in Parliament it was picked up by Iain Lees-Galloway, before new party leader Andrew Little asked him to dump it so the party could focus on other issues.

Similar bills have failed twice before ? in 1995 and 2003.

I think we’re ready for it now. ? Ironically, Labour’s withdrawal of this bill was nothing to do with it becoming a political football. ?Instead, they knew it would get no air time with the Dirty Politics campaign they had planned.

Now that’s out of the way, perhaps they can focus on getting this bill back on the table. ?People are dying horrible, extended and painful deaths.


– Dan Satherly, 3 News