Former Prime Minister Sir John Key says he will vote to legalise euthanasia in New Zealand because of the harrowing impact his mother’s Alzheimer’s had on her final months.
“My mother died of Alzheimer’s – from diagnosis to death was five months. Her body weight completely halved and she didn’t have a clue who I was at the end of it.
“She didn’t know who I was. She actually forgot the ability to eat – that’s why her body weight halved.
“I mean, it was an awful death for her. Honestly, if I wanted to do that personally, if I was in that condition, I would actually want that choice,” he told Newshub’s euthanasia debate tonight.
Key said he couldn’t have made that choice for his mum, but he wanted the option to make it for himself.
“If I could do it for myself, I would. Because in the end, I don’t know if I would want my family to actually look at me like that.”
Key has previously spoken of his mother as the person who had the greatest impact on him.
Born Ruth Lazar in Vienna, Austria, in 1922, and raised as a non-orthodox Jew, she fled the Holocaust in 1938 when Hitler annexed the country.
She married George Key in the United Kingdom and moved to New Zealand but then had to raise three children alone, including John, when he died from a heart attack. She raised Key and his siblings in a state house in Burnside, Christchurch.
During tonight’s debate, Key acknowledged that palliative care could offer someone who was dying the chance for reconciliation and healing during their final days.
“I’ve seen a situation where you desperately want to stay alive to say goodbye to your family and friends but there’s also a situation where you get near the very, very end, where you can be left with the lasting memories of your parent is one of them in a terrible state,” he countered.
“I’m not sure if that’s the memory I want to leave my kids.”
Former prime minister Helen Clark has also publicly announced she will vote yes in the upcoming referendum, urging New Zealanders to do the same and to not “fear or misinformation get in the way of compassion”.
Clark publicly announced her stance for the first time last month.
“I encourage New Zealand voters when they go to the polls on October 17 and who believe in compassion and dignity, to vote yes in the referendum on the End of Life Choice Act 2019,” she said in a statement on September 25.
During her time in Parliament, she had voted in favour of similar bills – but they never became law.
In her statement, Clark said she believes the End of Life Choice Act was a compassionate way of giving people who are suffering in ways that are very difficult to alleviate, the right to say their farewells at the time of their choice.
“I have spent many years travelling the world as part of my work, meeting people of all beliefs and ideals.
“One thing that stands out for me is how so many respect the way we do things in New Zealand – our democracy, our sense of fair-play, and our compassion.”
Clark said that this issue has been highly divisive and that its opponents should not prevent others from having the choice to do so.
“That isn’t fair”, she said.
“I urge you to speak to those in your family and other networks to reassure them that this act is compassionate and humane and has strong safeguards.”
Clark said that Parliament has ensured that there are enough stringent safeguards in this law – a law that, if passed, would only be available to a small proportion of New Zealanders who meet all the rigorous criteria set out in the law.
“There are more safeguards in this act than in any other piece of comparable legislation enacted elsewhere in the world,” she said.
“You cannot access this act if you have a mental illness. You cannot access this act if you have a disability alone.”
Clark’s statement came after her former finance minister Sir Michael Cullen publicly threw his weight behind the legalisation of assisted dying in certain circumstances.
He is in the final stages of terminal lung cancer and has said he wants to decide when the time is right.
“It is not about what some rather too lightly dismiss as ‘being a burden’. I do not want my only choice being to die in a near-comatose state on morphine, which has been administered knowing it will shorten my life anyway,” Cullen told the Herald.
“I do not want to lose control of my bodily functions so that my dignity has disappeared with the ebbing of my life.
“When I reach those last stages, if that is the prospect, I want the choice to be able to decide when the time is right to complete the circle of life.”
Cullen, 75, was told unexpectedly in March he had stage four small cell lung cancer while doctors were looking for what they thought might be a heart problem. He had no symptoms and no indication of the disease.
The cancer is inoperable and incurable.
While there is “excellent” palliative care in New Zealand, Cullen said he was still concerned about how he will die but if the End of Life Choice Act was passed it would offer dignity to people like himself with incurable lung cancer.
He said the bill provided a safeguard against pressure coming on the dying person from others and its scope was limited.
The legislation would give New Zealanders the option of legally requesting help to end their lives – either by a doctor or nurse practitioner administering the drug (euthanasia) or the patient taking the drug themselves (assisted dying).
To be eligible, patients have to be:
• 18 years or older,
• a New Zealand citizen or permanent resident,
• suffer from a terminal illness that is likely to end their life within six months,
• in “an advanced state of irreversible decline in physical capability”,
• experiencing unbearable suffering “that cannot be relieved in a manner that they consider tolerable”,
• be competent to make an informed decision about dying,
• have the approval of two doctors, each with at least five years’ experience. One can be their GP and the other must be independent.
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