Living with end-of-life possibilities: why she opposes legalizing euthanasia in New Zealand

By Alex Schadenberg, Executive Director, Euthanasia Prevention Coalition

New Zealand’s parliament passed a euthanasia bill in November 2019 by a vote of 69 to 51. In order to obtain the necessary votes to the government agreed to a referendum on the bill. New Zealand is now debating the legalization of euthanasia as they approach a September 19th euthanasia referendum during the election. 

An article written by Serena Jones and published by Newsroom tells her story. Jones is a New Zealand business woman and mother who has been fighting cancer for many years. Jones expresses her concern with the legalization of euthanasia based on her personal experience. 

The article explains:

Seven years ago I was told I had a 25 percent chance of living five years without the cancer returning; two years ago I was given 12 months to live. Plainly the upcoming End of Life Choice referendum concerns me, others like me, and all those involved in my care. 

I’ve just put the phone down after my phone consultation. My results are excellent. No new disease showing up in my body and the tumour much the same as it was on the last scan. I’m back ‘under observation’ (meaning a doctor check-in every six weeks and CT scan every three months). It’s an upward-swing of the pendulum, another reprieve – delivered with care, grace, attentiveness, in the best possible way. 

…Two years on, and inconceivable as it seems to me, I’m facing the end of my life. We’re coming up to a referendum on this very topic. I’d like to add something personal to the conversation.

Jones explains that she first reacted to her cancer diagnosis by being frightened, angry, and incredulous. Her next reaction was to face it head-on. Jones writes:

My initial prognosis was 12 months. It wasn’t long before my oncologist was ‘keeping me alive till Christmas’. Since then my family and I have lived through two Christmases. Clearly, in my case at least, there’s deep uncertainty here. The defining clause in the Act relies on this. I’ll be able to ask for an assisted death.

She then writes about the relationship she has had with many of her doctors who have cared for her and worked with her as she battled the disease. She refers to the doctor patient relationship as gold dust. 

She then comments on the position of New Zealand physicians:

Many hundreds of Kiwi doctors want no part in assisted suicide, and believe that physician-assisted death is unethical and interferes with the doctor-patient relationship to the extent that it crosses a societal line. It seems to me we’re risking a great deal here.

Jones comments on the excellent care that exists and New Zealand and the need to maintain this commitment to care. She concludes by stating:

Let’s understand that dying is an intrinsic part of life. Let’s talk about what end-of-life care actually is and strengthen, extend and improve what we already have in our palliative care. Such care is a commitment, one we need to make. Euthanasia is an avoidance of this commitment.

Thank you Serena for advocating for excellent care rather than killing. 

Editor’s note. This appeared on Mr. Schadenberg’s blog and is reposted with permission.