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Voluntary assisted dying: a one-sided view

Opinion Piece

Caralise Trayes has responded to my opinion piece (July 18) and takes issue with many of the points I raised.

Before refuting as many of her arguments as space allows, I must begin with an apology for a couple of errors I made in the penultimate paragraph of my original column.

Caralise's husband William is no longer on the staff at Kingsway school, a Christian school at which he had been “Head of Learning at Primary”, and Caralise and her husband do not run the crèche at Ignite Faith Church, as I mistakenly stated. Though I regret these errors, they have no bearing on my overall argument.

Now to Caralise's response or, in certain respects, lack thereof.

First, information gleaned via Google does not constitute details of her “private life”. And she says that these details have “nothing to do with my book”. On the contrary, her Pentacostal commitment has everything to do with it. Why else should she be so coy in not revealing information which, in the eyes of many, would reveal her to be anything but an honest broker?

Next, Caralise says: “I hope Martin's position as an End of Life Choice Society member and campaigner hasn't affected his ability to see these facts.”

This inversion of reality smacks of desperation. To suggest that EOLC helped form my views on voluntary assisted dying is the precise opposite of the truth. My views on voluntary assisted dying (VAD) were what motivated me to join the EOLC society, rather than the other way round.

And: “Some facts such as while 13 jurisdictions internally have legalised assisted dying, more than 30 have rejected it.” This is not an argument against VAD, but simply illustrates the fact that we are in the early stages of achieving the final human right; autonomy over one's death. There is often opposition to fundamental social change; at the turn of the last century, the overwhelming majority of jurisdictions rejected women's suffrage. I have no doubt that the right to die will be regarded as just as fundamental as equality for women is today. No doubt some bigoted Victorians saw votes for women as the beginning of a “slippery slope”. No doubt some said “they'll be bringing in equal pay next!”

Caralise appears to minimise coverage of the suffering of the terminally ill. Why, for example, did she recommend the book “Dying Well” but had nothing to say about the counterbalancing “Dying Badly”, which describes the suffering of terminally ill New Zealanders — the very people the VAD law is intended to help?

And why did she have a chapter on Lecretia Seales without interviewing or at least consulting anyone from her family? Lecretia's mother believes Caralise has misrepresented her daughter's death and minimised her pain and suffering. Had she subtitled her book: “Why you should vote NO to the End of Life Choice Act”, no one could have objected to it.

Caralise is entirely entitled to her beliefs, but in journalism, potential conflicts of interest are routinely disclosed to the readership. As 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 sole reviewer on Amazon Australia concluded a one-star review with the following remark: “Ethical journalists declare conflicts of interest. If you're already in the ‘opposed to assisted dying' choir and want to be preached at, by all means read this. If you're looking for ethical or objective journalism, steer clear.”

■ Martin Hanson is a former science teacher who lives in Nelson.

  1. Vander Merwe says:

    I’m puzzled why Martin Hanson regards a religious affiliation as a “conflict of interest” when there are religious people on both sides of the euthanasia debate.

    Why does Mr Hanson not also take issue with the fact that Jack Havill, past president of the End of Life Choice Society, failed to disclose his Christian affiliations in the prologue to the Dying Badly book?

    Why does Mr Hanson pick on a journalist who wrote a book on the assisted dying issue, but does not complain about journalists who write articles in the mainstream media on this topic without disclosing their religious affiliations?

    And while he’s at it, why does he not also demand that journalists who write about cannabis disclose whether they have smoked it, and that those commenting on the election disclose which political party they support?

    Clearly Mr Hanson has a chip on his shoulder.

    1. Martin Hanson says:

      In his August 2 comment on my column, Vander Merwe makes a number of statements that call for rebuttal, so here goes.

      Vander Merwe is quite correct in saying that “there are religious people on both sides of the euthanasia debate”. Just one thing, though: it is not the ‘euthanasia debate’; it is the ‘VOLUNTARY euthanasia debate’. Sorry for the upper case emphasis, but the frequency of this particular (and one suspects deliberate) misrepresentation by opponents of the End of Life Choice Act renders it necessary.

      Vander Merve states that Jack Havill, past President of the End of Life Choice Society did not disclose his Christian beliefs, implying that Dr Havill is guilty of the same failure to declare hidden motives of which Caralise Trayes stands accused.

      Leaving aside the fact that Mary Panko (chapter 5, page 56) states that Dr Havill is a Christian, his failure to disclose his Christian beliefs is indeed strange, but for the opposite reason that Vander Merwe would have us believe.

      Repeated polls have shown that in the UK and Australia, support for voluntary assisted dying (VAD) among the Christian laity massively exceeds opposition, so Dr Havill’s religious beliefs put him in the majority, which would strengthen his position rather than weaken it.

      It’s the ‘top brass’ – the bishops and archbishops of the establishment churches, particularly the Catholic Church, who mounted a highly organised and well-funded campaign against the End of Life Choice Act, including a full-page advertisement in the Dominion Post.

      This disconnect between the lay majority and the priestly minority is almost complete, notable exceptions being ex-Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey and Canon Rosie Harper, both of whom see the relief of suffering as being central to modern Christianity.

      I say ‘modern’ Christianity because there’s another group that seems to be languishing in the distant past: the Pentecostal fundamentalists to which Caralise Trayes belongs. Just how seriously their beliefs should be taken is indicated by their website which, under the heading “Our Beliefs”, states, among other things:

      “The Lord God created mankind in His own image and likeness” and “The Bible is ‘the inspired and infallible word of God revealing the purposes, ways and will of God for all mankind and all creation throughout all time. The Bible is the word of truth and the authority and indisputable reference for all doctrine, theology and experience.’” https://www.ignitefaithcentre.com/what-we-believe

      Such beliefs would imply a denial of evolution, the bedrock of modern biology. I have taught evolution for 40 years, and am the author of “Apes and Ancestors”, a textbook on human evolution. And since a belief in the literal truth of the bible implies a belief in a conversation between Eve and a talking snake (Genesis, chapter 3), I really find it hard to see why the media should be taking her so seriously.

      But Biblical literalism aside, by far the most serious criticism of ‘The Final Choice’ is its blatant bias, evinced by the author’s selectivity in choice of subjects for interview, 80 percent of whom were strongly against the End of Choice Act. Not only that, instead of interviewing Shirley Seales, the mother of Lecretia Seales (as was stated on the back of the book), she used a speech given in Auckland by Shirley.

      So her stated aim of ‘searching for the truth’, with its implied objectivity is, to put it at its mildest, highly disingenuous.

      1. Vander Merwe says:

        I wonder how many readers would agree that they are quite tired of Martin Hanson’s personal attacks and intolerance towards people who allegedly hold to beliefs he disagrees with. I certainly have had a guts full.

        Mr Hanson has now made his point ad nauseam that he disagrees with the 2.5 billion Christians around the world and associates himself with the mere 500 million atheists and agnostics worldwide, of which 200 million live in China.

        Apparently Christians are expected to become 30 percent of the world’s population by 2050. Some tolerance would be in order.

        Good on those Christians who actually believe what their sacred book, the Bible, teaches. Since the Bible is not a “modern” book, so-called “modern” Christianity is inconsistent and hypocritical if it cherry-picks the parts of the Bible it agrees with.

        It’s a journalist’s prerogative whom they decide to interview. An author does not need to devote the same space or time to each side of the debate in order to present both sides. One side may be more complex or nuanced than the other. If Mr Hanson thinks he could do a better job of writing a book on end-of-life issues he’s welcome to try!

        Until then, how about ranting about a different topic or taking up a new hobby… please?!

        1. Martin Hanson says:

          If Vander Merwe has “had a gutsful”, he’s only himself to blame; truth can indeed by very hurtful.
          If my comments were, as Vander Merwe says, “personal attacks” on Caralise Trayes, then readers would indeed be fed up with them. But attacking a person’s views is quite different from attacking the person; As journalist Johann Hari put it in another context: “I respect you as a person too much to respect your ridiculous beliefs.”
          Vander Merwe seems to take the view that the more people hold a particular belief, the more likely to be right, and until the scientific revolution this kind of thinking was the norm. Vander Merwe argues that Christian beliefs are held to be true just because billions of people hold those beliefs. This is, as comedian Bill Maher put it colourfully: argumetum ad numerum; “Eat sh*t, 20 trillion flies can’t be wrong”.
          Science has challenged widely held views, and now virtually all Christians accept that the Earth goes round the sun. However, the process of education was particularly painful for the Vatican, which took until 1992 to bring itself publicly to admit that Galileo was right, after all.
          By ‘the great majority’ of Christians, I mean those who take the New Testament as their guide for life, rather than the Old Testament. A small minority, however, believe in its literal truth, holding that, to quote the website of Ignite Faith, God created Man in his own image, thus implicitly denying the truth of Darwin’s Theory of Evolution, a view derided by all but a microscopic minority of scientists.
          Vander Merwe is quite right in stating that “it’s a journalist’s prerogative whom they decide to interview”, but good journalists declare vested interests, as Caralise Trayes failed to do.
          If Vander Merwe thinks that reasoned argument is ‘ranting’, it tells readers more about Vander Merwe than it does about the issue under discussion.