In the past I’ve written several posts and articles about voluntary euthanasia. The ‘voluntary’ bit is crucial, since no-one who wants to go on living, however great their pain or however inconvenient their continuing existence to others, should be cajoled or browbeaten into changing their mind. But it is hard to come to terms with the overweening arrogance of someone who believes they have the right to deny another human being, whose ongoing suffering has deprived them of all joy in living and who wishes to end that suffering, the right to do so. The laws that govern these decisions and procedures will of necessity be complex and they must be watertight. But they are not beyond our ability to design and implement. Other countries have done so. I don’t want to restart this debate. That is not the purpose of this post. This post is about the significance of comments on euthanasia cited in this morning’s Herald by the four contenders for the Labour Party leadership. Iain Lees-Galloway has taken over responsibility for the ‘End of Life Choice Bill’ after its sponsor, Maryan Street, failed to get elected in September.
Lees-Galloway is apparently gauging support before deciding whether to put the Bill back on the private members’ bill ballot. It was removed last year under pressure from the Labour leadership who, according to the Herald, “were concerned it could be an election-year distraction or that it could deter conservative voters”. The new Labour leader, whoever that is, could apparently have the deciding voice on the voluntary euthanasia question. So what did the contenders for that position have to say? Well, Nanaia Manuta was in favour of reintroducing the bill because it would show “that Labour would stand up for those difficult conversations that need to be had”. I thought that was a pretty principled position to take. David Parker, who voted against legalising voluntary euthanasia in, didn’t want to comment till he’d talked to Lees-Galloway. Non-committal and therefore less satisfactory perhaps. Grant Robertson and Andrew Little both support voluntary euthanasia, but neither considered it a priority at the moment.
The fairly clear subtext of their replies was that it was a vote-loser and that a party that had polled 25% in September couldn’t afford to be seen supporting unpopular policies. I’d call that unprincipled. But then the unprincipled route to power is the route the Labour Party is currently taking. It believes that it’s not enough for a policy to be a good policy and the right thing to do, if it isn’t also a vote-winning policy, a popular policy. Leadership aspirants are on the record as saying, “No point in introducing good policies that are going to lose you the election.” *Legalising voluntary euthanasia under strict legal conditions is a good policy but not a vote-winner, so we’ll forget that in the meantime. (Though “the meantime” is a very long time indeed for those whose lives have become intolerable to them!)
*Gradually increasing the age at which we’re entitled to receive superannuation is a also very good and sensible policy but apparently also a vote-loser. So out with that “in the meantime”.
*And ditto a capital gains tax “in the meantime”. These good policies, the candidates told us, had “scared the voters off”. There are precedents galore for this sort of thinking of course, for the abandonment of principle, of forward-thinking, enlightened or socially responsible policies and platforms because they’re unlikely to win or more likely to lose your party votes. Leadership gives way to “followship”. It’s a depressing view not only of our politicians but also of us, the voters. Are we really so selfish, so venal, so incapable of persuasion that the towel has to be thrown in before the contestants are even in the ring? Have we no admiration for those who stand up for their principles against the seeming odds? I say “seeming” odds, because the odds can never be totally accurately predicted. But, with the exception of Nanaia Mahuta, these prospective Labour Leaders are betting on the electorate not being motivated by anything other than unprincipled self-interest.
That’s pretty bloody offensive really and were I a member of the Labour Party, which I’m not, I wouldn’t vote for anyone who thought so little of me. Judy and I worked for Helen Clark from June. She made mistakes of course but she was willing to espouse unpopular policies when she thought it was the right thing to do. In the process she took a lot of flak, but the sky didn’t fall in. She still got 3 terms. She wasn’t always loved, but she was greatly admired and respected. With the exception of Nanaia Mahuta I’m not finding much to admire or respect in this lot. Their core philosophy appears to have everything to do with giving the punters what (they think) they want, and tossing out anything that doesn’t satisfy that principle. Which is a great pity. Because I happen to think that the Key honeymoon is all but over, that our Prime Minister has confirmed with his own words what many of us have thought for years, that he is a charming dissembler, not wholly upfront, not entirely honest. So now might be just the time for all good men… Oh forget it!