28 Oct 2016

Euthanasia plea: 'Don't take that choice from me'

7:28 pm on 28 October 2016

A parliamentary inquiry into assisted dying has today heard an impassioned plea from a man dying of cancer who wants the right to choose the moment of his own death.

The Health Select Committee agreed to the inquiry in response to a 22,000-strong petition asking for a law change to make the practice legal.

It will make a recommendation to Parliament about whether to change the law.

Stuart Armstrong, 58, who has cancer, made a submission in Christchurch today.

He begged the select committee to spare his wife and two children from having to see him waste away due to the ravages of his illness.

"Don't make that choice for me, give me that choice and rob cancer of the things that it's robbing me of now.

"It robs me every day of the choice to make love to my wife the way I want to, it robs me of the chance to walk my daughter up the aisle, it's going to rob me of the chance to hold my grandchildren."

It was a case of preserving an individual's human rights, he said.

"Please just remember my face when you're putting this forward, don't let cancer have just one more win over people like me. Do something about it. Give us a chance to die with some dignity."

Cancer sufferer Stuart Armstrong makes a submission to the parliamentary inquiry into assisted dying.

Cancer sufferer Stuart Armstrong makes a submission to the parliamentary inquiry into assisted dying. Photo: RNZ / Conan Young

Targetting elderly people 'indefensible' - cancer sufferer

It was revealed this week that members of the pro-euthanasia group Exit International were visited by the police after attending one of its meetings in Lower Hutt.

They set up a breath-testing station to target people who had attended the meeting.

Police said yesterday they were acting in good faith and were targeting these groups with the aim of preserving life.

The police have since referred themselves to their own watchdog, the Independent Police Conduct Authority, and there have been three additional complaints about their actions

Shirley Croll

Shirley Croll Photo: RNZ / Conan Young

RNZ asked submitters in Christchurch what they thought of the crackdown.

Shirley Croll has cancer and did not want to experience the same slow painful death her husband did when his motor neurone disease got the better of him.

While she was not considering assisted dying, she wanted the practice made legal.

"I have no wish to linger without any quality of life at all and I would like to go with full command of my senses and to be able to properly say goodbye to my family."

Ms Croll said she did not approve of the police's targetting of elderly people at the meeting in Lower Hutt.

"I thought that was pretty indefensible really and pretty tough on innocent people."

Lindy Howard is a spokesperson for the Voluntary Euthanasia Society.

She said the police were wrong to visit those who attended the meeting.

"This is incredibly patronising, treating elderly people as children. These are people who are sensibly looking at the possibility of what's coming later in their lives, especially things like dementia."

Offering assisted dying as an option described as 'tragedy'

Robert Haughey told the select committee life was too precious to give people the choice to take it and talked about his 13-year-old niece, who recently died from a rare genetic disorder.

"When I visited Jess in hospital the day before she died, she was struggling to breath and unable to communicate other than occasionally with her eyes.

Robert Haughey

Robert Haughey: Life is too precious to give people the choice to take it. Photo: RNZ / Conan Young

"But I can assure you there was no loss of dignity for this young lady.

"The proposed law change would see us offering suicide to Jessica or her parents as a valid option for prematurely ending her life.

"What a tragedy that would be."

After presenting her submission for why the law should remain unchanged, Barbara Te Miha from the Catholic Women's League told RNZ she supported the actions of the police.

"My personal view is I don't believe that we should help to murder another person. I think a big problem in our society is individualism and a lack of interdependence."

Ms Te Miha said allowing voluntary assisted suicide would open the door to pressure being put on the elderly to take this step.

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