Assisted dying - the final choice
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