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Care of the elderly: much more to do

Opinion Piece

Watching the parliamentary “End of Life Choice” bill debate on television during its second reading stages was an experience that I would recommend to anyone who genuinely wants to form a reasoned opinion on the issue.

There is no question that, in these circumstances when MPs are not bound by party loyalties and are free to speak frankly from the heart, we see the institution of Parliament and those who represent us operating in a manner that makes us proud to be “Kiwis”.

Sadly, there appear to be few other branches of government that reward us in similar fashion for the massive amounts of taxpayer dollars spent keeping our version of democracy afloat.

Sometimes, I wonder if we should just get rid of the “party” system and allow a “free vote” on everything.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem likely — even if it would probably result in a more consensus-based method of legislating in our best interests and, as a result, produce better law.

Getting back to the “End of Life” televised debate.

My viewing happened to coincide with contributions from a cross-section of MPs from different ethnic backgrounds and political persuasions.

I was impressed by the sincerity of everyone who spoke but, more importantly, the fact that before arriving at their own decision regarding voting preference, they had all made a determined effort to canvass the views of those with experience working in the field of aged care.

Almost without exception, the MPs spoke of a system supposedly designed to provide better-than-adequate care for our senior citizens yet was, according to most, nowhere near capable of reaching the standard we should expect from such an important institution.

It would appear that their investigations have uncovered endemic cases of mistreatment of those who have little ability helping themselves eke out their remaining days in relative comfort.

Most of the evidence seems to be related to our indifference towards these previously important members of our communities.

In many cases we feel we have satisfied our responsibilities to these folk if we can find a place that will keep them out of sight and, by extension, out of mind.

I know that is not the way most people reading this column would view their treatment of elderly folk, but I think we would all agree that there is much more we could do to ensure they remain valued members of society until they draw their last breath.

I am the first to admit that it isn’t easy dealing with “rogue steers” who make a habit of trying to burn the place down any chance they get, and am mindful of similar characteristics becoming more evident in my own reaction to the approaching twilight years.

However, more often than not the solutions to this problem are staring us in the face either by making better use of the vote “aged care” when planning affordable retirement facilities that cater for senior citizens, or by using those we have in a more efficient manner.

We don’t have to resort to the “final solution” in order to accommodate those who have earned the right to stay a little longer. Those who have responsibilities in this field tell us misuse of this legislation would mean these assisted deaths are not always “voluntary”. Passing this bill makes that a very real possibility.

TWO SHOTS: Clive Bibby is trying for a seat on Gisborne District Council, and Hauora Tairawhiti.