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Q+A: The panel discuss the euthanasia debate

Published: 4:53PM Sunday July 01, 2012 Source: Q+A

Michael, if I can start with you. Euthanasia - does it come down to a simple right to choose, or is there more to it than that?

MICHAEL BARNETT - Auckland Chamber of Commerce Chief Executive
I think there's probably more to it than that, and to me its not just about those that are tired of life. I think Maryans in the right place when she's looking terminal determination. I have to say that when I look back a hundred years and look at the technology that weve put in place and the new medicines that weve put in place that actually prolong life, weve got the opposite happening, and I think being able to manage the prolonging of life with some input from the person who may be terminally ill seems reasonable to me.

But when you get right to the end of the line, to that point, Steve Maharey, whos it for?

STEVE MAHAREY - Massey University Vice-Chancellor
I think the issue were talking about is a question of power. I remember when I was lobbied in 2003 over this by a senior doctor. He convinced me that Maryans approach is right because what he said was, Look, this is an issue that should be left in the hands of doctors. In other words, we want the power to do this. And I think what's happening now is increasingly people are saying, Well, so do we want some power as well, and we want some mechanism thatll allow us to the decision at the right time in our lives, and we dont want the medical profession to have all that power. After all, we have to remember this is something that is happening. People are making decisions about keeping people alive or not - whether they should make heroic interventions, for example, during surgery. Those decisions currently rely on the medical profession, and I think these days people are saying, We want to have some choice as well.

Those decisions are made the other way as well. Lets face it. Its not out there, and its not talked about a lot, but theyre made the other day, probably every day of the week, arent they, Michael? You yourself have had a very public battle with your health and with cancer. Your point of view on a personal level on this is what?

I guess I had a look at it and one of the things that became very very profound for me was I got to a point where I wasnt afraid of dying, but I realised how much I wanted to live. If I had been told that I was terminal, I think I would have wanted to exit in a way where I could do it with dignity and pride and maintain a little bit of me.

Would you have changed your mind had that decision been presented to you five, six years beforehand?

I dont know.

DR RAYMOND MILLER - Political Scientist
Yes, its interesting, because I think from Maryan Streets comments, its not just the terminally ill, but the incurably ill that might be covered by this legislation. That becomes a profoundly difficult issue, not just because it impinges on peoples moral values and indeed many religious values, but also because it impinges on personal experience, and if she's successful on getting this bill through - and dont forget its a private members bill and it has to go into a ballot - it will be the third time this has been dealt with in just over a decade. And what it means is this is seen as a very difficult issue. When it was last voted on in 2003, Labour was split. 45 voted for it; 46 voted against it. So political parties- These are conscience votes. Political parties are all divided on this issue, as well as the general public.

On that very subject, talking to Maryan Street before we did the interview yesterday, she said a couple of people who voted against it initially, she's spoken to them since, and theyve changed their mind. We could be in for a bit of a shift on this.

I think people have shifted, and I think it does come back to that point that the world has shifted now and people want some control over their own lives. They want to rely on the medical profession, as Michael was saying. But at some point, you want to be able to say, This is my choice too, not just the choice of people who are around providing me with treatment.

Accompanied by strict conditions and, you know, a shared ownership of the response. I think the world has changed.