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Monday 11 April 2016


P&R: Tipping Point?

Posted in: Comment
By Craig Young - 15th August 2015

After sustained coverage of the woes of the Conservative Party over the last month or so, this article focuses on the current activities of Family First.

exit_door_hollow.jpg
When I noted that US Christian Right anti-gay activist Ryan Anderson was amongst this years (Family First) Forum on the Family guests, I raised an eyebrow. What's the point? Given the apparent death-throes of the shipwrecked Conservative Party, the New Zealand Christian Right is weaker politically than it has ever been before. Apart from Family First and the shrinking network of anti-abortion and anti-euthanasia groups, there is virtually no-one else left. Clearly, the Christian Right is in no condition whatsoever to reserve the gains of marriage equality and inclusive adoption reform, so why pointlessly posture like this? All it seems to demonstrate is that Family First is slavishly dependent on the US Christian Right for propaganda, strategy and tactics, which is hardly original news. Even when the US Christian Right fails to achieve its objectives, given the Obergefelt v Hodges verdict and advent of marriage equality across the United States, it would seem.

In any case, I've noticed something while scanning New Zealand Christian Right websites for this column. Many of them seem to have diverted their attention away from anti-gay politics toward the escalating euthanasia debate. The latter began with Lecretia Seales' court case and questions about a third euthanasia law reform private members bill, which is now in the ballot box courtesy of David Seymour, Epsom's ACT MP. The Care Alliance anti-euthanasia consortium includes medical and disability rights organisations such as the Association of Salaried Medical Specialists and New Zealand Health Practitioners Association and Not Dead Yet Aotearoa. Of course, there is also a large contingent of religious social conservatives such as those within Family First, the New Zealand Conference of Catholic Bishops, Euthanasia-Free New Zealand, Christian Medical Fellowship and others (although oddly, not Right to Life New Zealand or Voice for Life, the two largest New Zealand anti-abortion groups). Thinking Matters, a conservative evangelical educational symposium, had Euthanasia Free New Zealand's chair Renee Joubert as its only overtly political speaker at a recent forum. For that matter, Family First is concentrating its attention on anti-euthanasia activism at Forum on the Family 2015 as well, having invited two overseas anti-euthanasia activist doctors, Greg Pike (Healthcare Opposed to Euthanasia, Australia) and Peter Saunders (Christian Medical Fellowship, UK) as its other keynote speakers.

What should we make of these new developments? Is the New Zealand Christian Right finally giving up its futile and counter-productive opposition to LGBT legislative reform? If so, why? One suspects that it could have something to do with the failure of US Christian Right counterparts against marriage equality and transgender rights over the course of the Obama administration, as well as corresponding developments in the United Kingdom and Ireland. Therefore, outside Australia and the United States, most conservative Christians may have finally realised that antigay politics is not a useful political tactic. On the other hand, euthanasia law reform has become an emergent "threat" in the New Zealand context and unlike the prior two private members bills against euthanasia reform, this time the furore isn't going away. Following a nine thousand signature petition from the Voluntary Euthanasia Society, Parliament's Health Select Committee accepted it for consideration

Some might argue euthanasia law reform isn't 'our' issue. It isn't as if HIV+ people are queueing up in areas like the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Oregon, Washington, Vermont and Montana, where euthanasia is accessible. Most instances of euthanasia and assisted suicide in those nations are from metastasised cancer. Granted, there are individual LGBT users like Michele Causse (1936-2010), whose proactive stance may have been atttributable to her lesbian feminism when she accessed assisted suicide at Zurich's Dignitas clinic. However, there are also cases such as Belgian transman Nathan Verhelst (1969-2013) who sought assisted suicide in Belgium after he became dissatisfied with the outcome of his reassignment surgery. Many transpeople felt deeply uneasy at Verhelst's assisted suicide, arguing that he should have been provided with counselling and psychotherapy in this context. Many disabled LGBT individuals feel that disability discrimination is too rife within healthcare and government social service policies to trust the state with assisted suicide as it might be used as a way to offset the expenses incurred by government subsidised care, social service provision and disability services. Against that again, however, is the case of Maurice Genereux, a French-Canadian doctor who "assisted" two HIV+ gay men to end their lives (possibly without their consent to do so), although Genereux had prior disciplinary sanctions for sexual assault against some of his other gay patients and should not have been practisting medicine. This occurred in 1998 and may suggest that in the absence of formal regulatory procedures, such predatory and non-consensual medical practice is a correlate of "backstreet euthanasia", akin to backstreet abortions in the days when that medical procedure was illegal and desperate women often died in unhygienic charlatans quarters trying to end unwanted pregnancies. However, protease inhibitors now exist and render such troublesome questions historic matters.

Anyhow, the Economist (27.06.2015) informs us that New Zealand is not alone in the heartbreaking dilemmas raised by the tragedy of Lecretia Seales. In California, the situation was comparable, related to the similar tragic plight of Brittany Maynard (29) who was diagnosed with inoperable brain cancer. Fortunately, because Oregon introduced regulated physician assisted suicide in 1994, she was able to have a quiet dignified death there. The late fantasy author Sir Terry Pratchett also advocated the decriminalisation of voluntary euthanasia and physician assisted suicide in the United Kingdom. According to the Economist article, most people who do access available options in Western Europe and the three US states in which it is legal tend to have inoperable cancer of some form or another. In the case of Ms Seales, it was a degenerative neurological condition.

Which brings us back to Family First. Whether they like it or not, as the Economist articles cited above demonstrate, this time, the issue of euthanasia law reform may be here to stay on the New Zealand political landscape, as well as comparable western societies. Its choice is clear. Stop rabbiting on about anti-LGBT propaganda that they're bound to lose and switch attention to this emergent issue.

If the Christian Right wants to exit anti-gay politics though, it should regard themselves as invited to do so. The out door is that way.

Recommended:
Voluntary Euthanasia Society: http:// www.ves.org.nz
Assisted Suicide of Michele Causse: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v= JfyxUO4ZsDo
Graeme Hamilton: "Terminally Transsexual: Concerns raised over Belgian euthanised after 'botched' sex change" National Post: 22.11.2013:http://news.nationalpost.com/news/canada/terminally-transsexual-concerns-raised-over-belgian-euthanized-after-botched-sex- change
"Euthanasia petition accepted by committee" 3 News: 26.06.2015:http://www.3news.co.nz/nznews/euthanasia-petition-accepted-by-committee- 2015062609
David Spurgeon: "Toronto doctor convicted of assisting suicide" British Medical Journal:316(7144): 1558. 23 May 1998:http://www.bmj.com/content/316/7144/1558.1. extract
"Doctor assisted dying: The right to die" Economist: 27.06.2015.
"Final Certainty" Economist: 27.06.2015
Care Alliance: http: //www.carealliance.org.nz
Euthanasia Free New Zealand: http:// euthanasiadebate.org.nz



Craig Young - 15th August 2015

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