Please do not make a hole in the dike

ORAL PRESENTATION to Health Select Committee Inquiry into Ending One’s Life in New Zealand

Petrus Simons

18 November 2016

Today it is forty-nine years ago since I arrived in New Zealand from the Netherlands. I was welcomed by a very friendly society. Migrants have a unique opportunity to compare the society they hail from with the one that has welcomed them. Often, this gives us a unique perspective on things.

Sadly, as I tried to keep up with events in my old country, I became aware of a trend towards euthanasia which culminated in 2001 in a bill to legalise it, after the courts had allowed doctors to practise it under conditions that were steadily made less strict. I note also that until the legalisation of euthanasia in 2002, Belgium had proportionately more people aged 100 years than the Netherlands had. This is likely to change as Belgium has adopted the same legislation and has become even more aggressive in applying euthanasia and assisted suicide.

In my younger years, in the early 1960s an older colleague had a child who was completely handicapped intellectually. No one in the family ever received one glimpse of recognition from her. Yet, they cared for her 24/7 with a love they had never believed they were capable of. When they were mourning her death after 13 years, they realised that that was precisely the precious gift they had received from that child.

Currently, parents in such a case would be under enormous pressure to get the child killed at birth as one believes this to be more efficient and useful, although one would use the word ‘compassion’. I maintain that the sick, the fragile and the vulnerable enable us to love, by caring for them, whether as doctors, nurses, friends or family.

The current law acts as a boundary which doctors and nurses know they should not cross. It enables them to provide loving appropriate care. It also allows them to stop applying highly technical medical procedures when they can only protract the dying process and when palliative care is called for instead. The boundary is like a dike which keeps the sea at bay and enables life to go on inside the polders.

The boundary, the dike, is necessary to ensure that medical efficiency remains focussed on preserving and caring for life, without a cold calculation of utility and disutility. Without the boundary, one goes down the road of killing efficiently as it might appear to provide the greatest utility to the vulnerable and to society. This would not be the friendly New Zealand I have come to know and love in my 49 years here.

No matter what sort of bill would be written to enable assisted suicide and/or euthanasia, it will make a hole in the dike. Inevitably, such a hole will get larger and larger till the dike ceases to exist.

Please do not make a hole in the dike.

By Dr Petrus Simons

Dr Petrus Simons is a retired economist with a PhD in philosophy.