Not long ago, visiting the hospital unit of a local rest home, I listened to a gathering of those too often dismissed as ‘just old folk’. They were singing their hearts out and it could break one’s own just listening.These were the songs of their own and their parents’ generations, when melodies counted and lyrics were intelligible. ‘The nightingales sang in Berkeley Square’, ‘There’ll be blue birds over…’, ‘One day, when we were young, one wonderful morning in May’, ‘Where have all the flowers gone?’, ‘When you walk through a storm, hold your head up high…’. And they did just that.
Among these elderly patients one could encounter a former psychiatrist, a family doctor, pilots, national and international, including one who flew Lancaster bombers in the second world war, and a former Wren. Lawyers, accountants, teachers, a boatbuilder, a world-renowned fisherman, a forest worker: a variety of business folk, artists, musicians, a retired judge, a meteorologist, a motel owner, hotel manager, former nurses, a truck driver, chefs, farmers – people from all walks of life united in a common humanity. And with Christmas drawing near I am reminded of the loneliness of those whose families did not visit last Christmas, but whom the quite splendid carers and nurses take especially under their wing at this time.
I am also reminded of the arrogance of so many of today’s millennials, particularly in the political arena, who don’t look past the no-longer-young, handsome, pretty, even beautiful faces captured by age, etched by lines of fatigue, of loss, of disappointment, of suffering or sheer hard work, their bodies perhaps bent or crippled. The offhand dismissal of a former senior MP by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s husband, media presenter Clarke Gayford as ‘a dino’ comes to mind – or the 25-year-old Green MP Chloe Swarbrick’s insulting ‘OK, Boomer’ to put down an older MP.
These are the same MPs now ignoring the fact that 90 per cent of submissions recently made to parliament about the End of Life Choice Bill are opposed to it. An extraordinary number of 39,000 have taken the trouble to write. 1,500 doctors have petitioned against it in an open letter, supported by so many other health professionals concerned with the care of the elderly. Hundreds have demonstrated outside parliament with the point well made that parliamentarians are not able to prove that there will not be unintended consequences. Ethics committees worldwide argue against euthanasia and overseas experience suggests that once assisted suicide is permitted in legislation, under supposedly strict conditions, it becomes the thin end of the wedge, under constant attack from those with a destructive agenda – as with the recent push by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to remove abortion from the Crimes Act, lessening the already inadequate existing protection for those equally vulnerable, the youngest of all human beings.
The recent passing of the euthanasia legislation in this country by 69 votes to 51 now leads to a referendum at the general election in 2020, apparently very much against the wishes of Ardern and only as a result of the Labour party being forced to do so. Its coalition partner, New Zealand First, argued the choice should be left to New Zealanders. However MPs, particularly party leaders, routinely assume they know best. ‘Allowing’ New Zealanders to decide on their own directions is not a course favoured by their politicians.
There is little doubt that its introduction by David Seymour, the sole MP in his one-man ACT, propped up by a past agreement with National not to contest his seat, was motivated, as MP Maggie Barry pointed out, by the bill’s fundamental purpose to allow swift and easy access to euthanasia, assisted suicide, for those over 18 years of age. She warns against sanitising the issue by pretending it to be something it isn’t. Amendments subsequently added, step by step, were far from enthusiastically endorsed by Seymour and Ardern, but agreed to as a necessary evil, which speaks for itself. At present euthanasia will be restricted to those suffering from a terminal illness likely to end their lives within six months. Such an individual is expected to be in a state of terminal decline experiencing unbelievable suffering that cannot be relieved in a manner that the person considers tolerable. Catch-22 lies in the impossibility of contesting such a claim.
They are not a new phenomenon, the Chloe Swarbricks and so many others convinced their youth gives them superior insights, advantages, thinking and experience denied previous generations – in spite of the fact that so many other cultures, equating age with accumulated learning and wisdom, accord considerable respect to their own elderly. Worldwide today, Green parties, predominantly representing a youth vote, are embracing a kind of eco-fanaticism which has them panicking about ‘the planet’. Their claim that we have a ‘climate emergency’ is used as justification for neither engaging in genuine debate nor more humbly listening to those who have been on the planet far longer than they have.The elderly do not tend to be arrogant. Life has taught them much that those younger are yet to learn. Typically, politicians are in no hurry to chalk up this lesson. After all, haven’t they been elected because they know best? And the pressure which very many of the oldest generation will feel because of a burden of guilt, because they feel they are an inconvenience to family – especially bullying, uncaring or avaricious relatives – or even that they should be prepared to die to save money for family – will be blatantly ignored.
So the 90 per cent of New Zealanders opposing this legislation will be shown they are wrong. Few doubt arguments will be manipulated, highly emotive, to guide ‘right-thinking’ before the vote takes place. There will be tears from those who have witnessed painful deaths; there will be self-righteous arguments from those with not an iota of concern for the gradual attack that we are seeing on the individual worldwide.
Ominously, we have moved far from the understanding that it is the business of parliament to act according to the wishes of the people – not to over-rule them.