As a doctor who swore to first do no harm, the End of Life Bill really bothers me

By April 23, 2019 Recent News

Stuff 21 April 2019
Family First Comment: “How we die says a lot about our society. Having held a few hands of the dying, I know that those moments are sacred. I didn’t swear the oath of first doing no harm, to then participate in an activity with multiple harmful effects to both the living and the dying.”

OPINION: First, do no harm. This is our medical creed.

When our class graduated I was the student who read out our version of the Hippocratic​ Oath, “a declaration of professional dedication”, in te reo Māori.

All brand new baby doctors in the old Maidment Theatre, 20 years ago. The kids were there holding my hands. Te Kaanga Skipper, our med school mother hen, gave us all a pounamu heart to wear around our necks. Merimeri Penfold lent me a korowai. Pineaha Murray and Selwyn Muru put the cloak on me. Karakia were spoken, and an ancient oath was made new.

The End of Life bill has brought it all back in vivid, living colour. Reading the legislation – not everyone’s cup of tea – has been exacting my little grey cells this week. I find it fascinating. And with a new bill like this one the preamble and description of the process to date is insightful stuff.

In essence, the judicial committee who reviewed it were “unable to agree that the Bill be passed”. They concluded members of Parliament needed to resolve the matter.

There are a few things that really bother me.

One is that the law is written as if we are all living completely independently of each other, as if we make decisions alone. This is not true. That there is no compulsion to discuss “assisted dying” with any whānau at all strikes me as fundamentally wrong. This is not reflective of how we – Māori and Pākehā – live, or how we may die.

Many aspects of the law that I deal with regularly provide salutary lessons that are relevant here if we don’t want to make the same mistakes.

* Child and adolescent psychiatrist Hinemoa Elder PhD is a Fellow of the Royal Australia NZ College of Psychiatrists, and Māori strategic leader at Brain Research NZ.

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