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Aboriginality and the ‘assisted dying’ debate..

Aboriginality and the ‘assisted dying’ debate..

I have just read a post I thought was pretty important to share. While my last post was pretty much only a ‘call to enter the debate’ about assisted dying and Māori and Pasifika attitudes, this post by Paul Russell explores some of the issues for indigenous Australians; particularly in regards to the passage of the world’s first pro-euthanasia legislation: the Rights of the Terminally Ill Act 1995 (Northern Territory). This legislation was championed by Marshall Perron, the Chief Minister (in other words, the State Premier) of the Northern Territory. The Act had a very short effective life, as it was stymied by the (Federal) Euthanasia Laws Act 1997. But the debate around the Bill raised issues at the time about the perceived vulnerability of indigenous Australians in regards to euthanasia legislation, and what appears to have been a pretty charged debate. Here is an excerpt from the post:

Perron created a few broadsides himself. In his closing speech at the second reading he said: “The campaign by the AMA and Right to Life groups at least has been dishonest and, whoever told traditional Aboriginals that we would round up the sick people and put them down ought to be ashamed of themselves.”

That last comment is incredibly poignant and historically significant. There is no telling whether Perron’s recollection is verbatim or whether he is summarizing and synthesising a number of anecdotes, but there is no doubt that issues raised by Aboriginal people and concern for Aboriginal peoples, their fears, their laws and culture, remoteness, low life expectancy etc. was a significant part of the initial debate spilling over then into the Federal debate on the Euthanasia Laws Act through 1996 and 1997 and even gaining mentions in subsequent euthanasia debates in other states many years later.

I’m not about to presuppose that Māori and Pasifika views will cohere with indigenous Northern Territorians. But this post is at least a contribution. What do Māori and Pasifika think? Should there be assisted-dying legislation in New Zealand? If so; how can Māori and Pasifika contribute to ensuring that the legislation is effective and does not perpetuate ‘the vilest discrimination’? If not: what are the culturally informed thoughts that uphold such a position?

We all need to know.



About Sparrowhawk/Kārearea

Legal academic and writer, Wellington. (Te Rarawa, Ngāti Pākeha. Nō te Hāhi Mihinare hoki)

10 responses »

  1. Clarification: the issues faced by indigenous peoples – which I don’t seek to comment on – have nothing to do with my right to choose euthanasia if the circumstances surrounding my death mean I want that (compassionate) option, according to the rational framework which is the context of my life. Yes?

    So, are you calling for separate euthanasia law for indigenous peoples?

    If so, I would leave that up to indigenous peoples to debate, none of my business (although I would be pretty indignant if Maori, et al, to have my right to die in dignity restricted by my identity).

    At ya 😉

    But again, just like Catholics are free to die in pain for their God, so for indigenous peoples is this option voluntary. Any assumption is will be a forced outcome is alarmist, especially in context of no such abuses exist, as you seem to imply, in the many overseas jurisdictions that dying with dignity is available.


    • Please excuse the typos. … That worst one amongst the mangled grammar is …’Any assumption it will be a forced outcome …’


    • Kia ora Mark, my concerns are primarily involuntariness, coercion, lack of true choice. And the issues that might undermine that true choice have everything to do with your right to choose, if the legislation that grants it brings vulnerable individuals closer to a death they don’t really want. I hope you are not suggesting that vulnerable people (indigenous, or disabled, or however else they may be ‘vulnerable’) should ‘take one for the team’, are you Mark? But truly (and facetiousness aside), I just want to hear Māori and Pacific voices on you and I both agree this issue is bloody important. Nice to hear from you!:)


      • No I don’t think that. My entire philosophy, and the central tenet I base my life on, is do not harm (non-initiation of force principle). A libertarian world based on individualism would finally be a peaceful world.

        But I think this argument that people will be ‘murdered’ – because we’re no longer talking about euthanasia – is scaremongering, totally, repeat, totally, unsupported by facts in those jurisdictions euthanasia is legal.

        When I read of overseas experiences, all countries that have legislated euthanasia law had these fears, but none have been realised, nor will they. There are safeguards possible to void this (if needed. Personally, I don’t have a Fallen view of humanity). In Oregon the hospice association were originally against such law, but after a decade of its operation, are on-side with it.

        Finally, I reckon – look at me laying the law down, professor 😉 – anybody who arrives at a position of disallowing this choice to any individual due to issues based in identity, is at a philosophical/ideological dead end.

        Gotta go get tea.


      • Yes…I do worry about the scaremongering aspect of that argument. I take your point. My own fears stem from discussions with rest home workers and families where some pretty heinous elder abuse has occurred. Not many examples, but enough for me to have that fear that abuse can easily translate to coercion. And do we know that coercion has never occurred in other regimes? The problem simply doesn’t exist by definition, if the law has been adhered to. But law and reality diverge. So I agree, fear-mongering is no good, but raising genuine questions about safeguards against coercion in a county where we often treat old people like crap is absolutely legitimate.And coercion can be a very culturally informed process, I think, so culture must be part of that debate. And now I too have to go & cook!


  2. Hi Maamari Thanks for your excellent posts I just came across these 3 short interviews with Bioethicist Margaret Sommerville. The interviewer is Simon Smart from Centre for Public Christianity in Australia. I thought they were excellent all sorts of issues and a great contribution to the debate.

    Cheers, Gillian


    Liked by 1 person

  3. Wow, the last post and this one are amazing and very close to my own heart for a number of reasons. Firstly, I am fighting breast cancer. Never thought it would happen to me but hei aha. Thinking, selfishly, about my own mortality and knowing how stroppy I get with ‘assistance’ there is no way I want palliative care or to lose my mind and body. Having said that, there may come a time where I cannot make decisions for myself, and my whanaunga know what I want. Did we practice assisted dying? I don’t know? Until someone can prove to me, tikanga, untainted by Christianity, then I view the ‘experts’ with a healthy dose of skepticism. Secondly, I am married into a Koori family. They defy the odds and live until their 90’s. Is it my place to choose what happens? No? But if any of the family asked for assisted dying, then I would have no option than to consider their request.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Tena koe e hoa, thank you for these thoughts. Such a great question.. Did Maori practice euthanasia? What do the traditions and oral history tell us? I guess practices will have differed from people to people. Gotta do some research!



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