Dr English: Assisted living, not dying

  • 07/11/2016
Deputy Prime Minister Bill English
Deputy Prime Minister Bill English

A man whose wife is languishing in hospital with debilitating Multiple Sclerosis got up and walked out of a committee hearing after Wellington doctor Mary English said assisted living should be a priority over euthanasia.

Dr English, the wife of deputy prime minister Bill English, told the Parliament's health select committee on Monday that medically assisted dying would be unsafe for people at risk of suicide, and for people with disabilities.

"I think this would be really unsafe for they would know at the heart of MAD legislation is the idea that some lives are not worth living, lives a lot like theirs," she said.

"I and most of my colleagues would much prefer to advocate for medically assisted living, and we know that MAD law would increase the vulnerability of disabled people and make this harder to achieve."

But just moments earlier Hugh Barnes told the three-member health subcommittee that it was all very well to say a live should never be ended, but people in his situation might feel differently.

Two years ago his wife of 50 years, Val, was admitted to full-time care and now requires assistance with everything.

"Having seen other patients in hospital with more advanced conditions and how they're existing is extremely upsetting to both of us. We know a time may come when life for Val may also become intolerable and pointless," he said.

The couple's biggest dread is having no control over what Val may experience in the final stages of her life.

"Once life becomes painful and miserable, with no hope of improvement, surely the person should have some choice as to whether or not medical techniques should be used to gently end their life and put them and everyone involved at peace," he said.

"If Val and I knew some such choice was available in certain circumstances we would now feel a little bit easier with regard to the future."