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Assisted dying - the final choice

Opinion Piece

On June 28, Radio New Zealand's Sunday Morning featured an interview with Caralise Trayes, author of a new book The Final Choice, which deals with the vexed issue of the forthcoming referendum on the End of Life Choice Act. On Tuesday June 30 TV3's The Project also dealt with the referendum and featured Trayes.

The front of her book describes Trayes as a “Kiwi journalist on the hunt for the truth”, and in the early pages she certainly conveys the impression of beginning her “journey” of discovery with an open mind.

At this point I am prompted to wonder what Trayes means by “truth”. Unlike NCEA chemistry, questions about human values don't come into the “true or false” category. They are loaded with emotional baggage; feelings are not facts. Whether one's views stem from witnessing intense suffering in the final days or weeks of a terminal illness, or from the conviction that life does not belong to the individual but to God, is irrelevant. In the individual's mind, each belief may be held with such conviction as to amount to “truth”.

In attempting to arrive at a solution to a problem to which there is no definitive answer, Trayes seems to have set her sights too high. A more realistic approach would be to regard it as another case of societal values which, like women's suffrage, can change over time. A century ago, if anyone were to suggest that because homosexuality is found in all societies, it is no more unnatural than left-handedness, they would have been roundly condemned.

Yet here we are in the 21st century, acknowledging this reality in our legislation.

So some values can and do change. To what extent did Trayes acknowledge this reality in her book? Did the 20 people she interviewed represent a cross-section of opinion, as would have been consistent with her declared aim to “hunt for the truth”?

She says she chose her subjects by sifting through submissions to the Justice Select Committee when the EOLC Bill was before Parliament. What she says she found was that “religion often did not determine which side someone sat on”.

She must have been unaware of the behind-the-scenes manipulation by religious-based organisations. Care Alliance, for example, analysed the submissions to the Select Committee and found that only 14.8 percent of submissions made any reference to religion which, they maintained, showed that the Church played no part in the great majority of submissions being against the Bill.

What the Care Alliance avoided mentioning was that the Catholic bishops had specifically instructed their flock not to mention religion when making a submission — “Avoid religious and moralistic language. Be factual,” were their words.

So it's no surprise that Trayes' selections were 4 : 1 against the Act. In the section “Legal Thoughts” is the interview with Richard McLeod. A member of the committed Catholic group Opus Dei (“Work of God”), he thinks of himself as “not to be a lawyer who's Catholic, but to be a Catholic lawyer”. It's therefore reasonable to infer that he is using his faith to further the work of God which, as a Catholic, would include campaigning against voluntary assisted dying.

Although a significant number of the other interviewees opposing the Bill are also religious conservatives, such affiliations are only mentioned in the last section “Religious Responses”. The number of interviewees opposing the Act is also boosted by including three disabled people, conveniently ignoring the fact that the Act specifically excludes disability on its own as sufficient to qualify for assisted dying.

Interestingly, in her interview with Dr Jack Havill, Trayes mentions that he had co-authored Dying Badly, a compendium of cases written by family members who had witnessed at first-hand the suffering of terminally-ill loved ones. But of the two books she recommends at the end, she mentions Dying Well by Dr Ira Byock, but not Dying Badly mentioned earlier.

Perhaps Dying Badly brings the reader too close to reality for comfort.

It's no secret that the strongest opposition to the EOLC Act comes from organised religion. So when we learn from Google that Caralise Trayes and her husband William are members of the Pentacostal Christian group “Ignite Faith” at Arkles Bay, Whangaparaoa, we should not be surprised. No doubt her religious friends would happily overlook the tendentiousness of her book, considering it to be a small sin compared with the greater “good” of denying the terminally-ill the choice of an assisted death.

While Trayes' religious convictions may explain her book's partiality, it is regrettable that neither Radio New Zealand nor TV3 appears to have done their homework prior to interviewing her, with the result that many in their audiences will have been misled.

' Martin Hanson is a former science teacher who lives in Nelson. He is an End of Life Choice Society member and campaigner

Martin Hanson

  1. Fraser Watson, Kapiti says:

    Not sure I can laugh at the irony of Trayes searching for truth while hiding her religious motivations, but I do thank Martin Hanson for shining a light on yet another example of religious-political scheming. Your choice is . . . yours. Not an imaginary gods, and certainly not any others, on behalf of their imaginary god.

  2. Martin Hanson says:

    Astoundingly for a journalist seeking ‘the truth’, Trayes did not interview or consult anyone from Lecretia Seales’ family. Instead, she uses quotes from a speech made by Shirley Seales, Lecretia’s mother, and ends the book with words from a psychiatrist who was not present when Lecretia died. Shirley Seales believes Trayes has misrepresented her daughter’s death and minimised her pain and suffering.
    Trayes is entirely entitled to her beliefs and opinions, but in journalism, conflicts of interest are routinely disclosed to the readership. The NZ Press Council states: “Where an author’s link to a subject is deemed to be justified, the relationship of author to subject should be declared.”
    The conclusion is inescapable that “The Final Choice” is a clever piece of religiously-based propaganda, masquerading as an objective search for truth.

  3. Michael Ferri, Hamilton says:

    Martin, I can appreciate that you’ve thought deeply about that which you’ve shared; but I find it difficult to envisage a conspiracy of Catholics (of which I’m not one). I am, however, a former science teacher, like yourself, and being totally honest, as I read The Final Choice I found the variety of viewpoints presented to me to be notably unbiased. I’ve personally recommended the book to people for that very reason. There will be other publications out there that promote a Yes or a No, but I can’t imagine coming upon another that’s so readable and so articulate in promoting that the reader think for themself.

    1. Pete Johnson says:

      Hi Michael
      I understand that you were a teacher at the Waikato Diocesan School for Girls, so your objectivity is also muddied somewhat.

    2. Martin Hanson says:

      What follows is based on a strong suspicion that Michael Ferri is (or was in 2012) the editor of the Christian magazine Wholeness. If I’m wrong in this belief, I apologise unreservedly to Mr. Ferri.
      Mr. Ferri’s response is utterly unsurprising. He says he’s not a Catholic, but so what? Catholics may be the most numerous religious conservatives, but they are a long way from being the only group; Ms Trayes and her Ignite Faith friends, for example.
      As his Facebook entries clearly show, Mr Ferri has been strongly opposed to the End of Choice Bill (now Act). To give but one example, on November 13 last year he wrote:
      “Join me in praying for the bill to be defeated either in the referendum or through the next government acting to repeal it”. It’s therefore small wonder that he finds the book “notably unbiased”.
      What he fails to mention is the evidence of bias in Ms. Trayes’ selection of people she interviewed, 80 percent of whom were strongly opposed to the End of Life Choice Act. Most egregious of all, Ms. Trayes did not interview any of Lecretia Seales’ family. Though she devoted a chapter to Shirley Seales, Lecretia’s mother, this was based entirely on a speech by Shirley Seales’ at a public meeting in Auckland. Had she really been ‘searching for truth’ it is inconceivable that she would not have interviewed one of the central figures in the issue. That might have meant dealing head-on with the issue of suffering, which Ms Trayes appears to have largely avoided in her book.
      Does he not consider these points to be evidence of bias?

  4. Chris Paddock, Northamptonshire says:

    Can anyone explain to me why religious bodies and their acolytes object to assisted dying?

    I’m familiar with the CofE rhetoric about “God giveth and God taketh away” – is that it? Do they realise that by such an action their God would be a common thief? Taking away something that is freely given is theft – and the morality doesn’t get much better if one changes the mantra to “God loans and God repossesses”. It’s not as though the borrower had any say in the matter is it? I doubt the reclamation of an imposed loan would be kindly received in the courts of many countries.

    Do they perhaps believe in a God who demands that many people, including some of his faithful, die in pain and shame after extended illness which he (apparently) chooses not to defeat. Die surrounded by distraught friends and relatives whilst others, believers and not, do so peacefully in their sleep? Do they think he mandates the suffering of those who have to deal with the aftermath of road/rail/plane crashes, or of those whose “free will” he tramples on in order to allow the psychopathic murderer free rein with their’s.

    Some say that people grow to look like their dogs – others that some gods grow to mimic their landlords.

    An aside – by refusing local facilities, as we do in the UK, those who seek to die with some dignity generally travel to Switzerland – a substantial undertaking for many who are terminally ill. As a direct consequence of the activity of those who frustrate decency and rational compassion, such travellers die some 6 months earlier (on average) than they would have had they had home support. They are, rationally, scared to wait too long and find that they are too ill to make the journey.