Humanist Society of New Zealand (Inc.), PO Box 3372, Wellington, New Zealand – Registered Charity No. CC36074

The Humanist Society of New Zealand is a Member Organisation of the International Humanist and Ethical Union

Humanist NZ Newsletter –November 2020

Kia ora: It is now 181 days that Mubarak Bala has been detained in Nigeria for holding Islam to objective scrutiny. It was with relief that the global Humanist community heard that Mubarak’s Fundamental Rights case was finally heard in Abuja, Nigeria on 19 October. No defence was entered by the authorities. The judge has adjourned provisionally until 10 December for judgement. This inhumane waiting continues. The advocacy work of Humanists International continues after the 2020 General Assembly was held online on 16 October. Almost 100 representatives of Humanist organisations around the world participated. For Humanist NZ this meant a 2am rendezvous with the Northern hemisphere. It is hoped to meet up in Kathmandu, Nepal in 2021. If Covid-19 is still restricting global movement then it is intended to make the on-line GA more interactive. If we can travel the new HI Board is determined to explore new ways in which we can allow online participation in all future General Assembly meetings, as part of a hybrid system. Two new Board members were elected- Dr Leo Igwe from Nigeria and Debbie Goddard from the USA. Keep up with world humanist news at www.humanists.international.

Monthly Meeting

Monday 2 November 6.30 pm until 9.00pm

Inequalities experienced by Asylum seekers in New Zealand

Kamil Lakshman BA, Dip CM, MBA LLB will speak to us about the difficulties that asylum seekers experience in our country. Mrs Lakshman is a long-standing member of the New Zealand Law Society’s Wellington Immigration and Refugee Law Committee. Kamil has extensive experience of Immigration New Zealand processes and how they impact on asylum seekers lives. Legal practitioners working with refugees recognise the inequalities that favour quota refugees over convention refugees. The general public, however, are not always aware of the difficulty’s asylum seekers face when they finally reach New Zealand. At a Worldwide Universities Network (WUN) Conference on Refugee Settlement at Auckland University, December 2013 a paper was presented ‘Aspirational yet precarious: New Zealand refugee resettlement policy’s compliance with international human rights obligations.’ This paper was revised and expanded and published in 2016 in the International Journal of Migration and Border Studies, 2016 Vol. 2 No. 3. The paper ‘demonstrates that New Zealand refugee policy is aspirational yet extremely precarious’ with the paper’s authors concluding  that it is difficult to contend that New Zealand actually meets its international obligations in a consistent and sufficient manner.’ Some countries are hardening their stance against freedom of religion and belief, and consequently, Atheists and Humanists and members of other minority belief groups are facing increased pressure to remain silent and not critique religious thought. Many are forced to flee for their own safety and seek asylum in other countries. How can Humanists support those who are at risk?

All interested people are welcome, Society members and members of the public – bring a friend.

Venue: Thistle Inn, 3 Mulgrave St, Wellington

Update – New Zealand Non- Religious Pastoral support: Humanist NZ is in discussion with Humanists UK to develop a training course for New Zealand non-religious Pastoral support. We thank people who have responded with an interest in this area of support. We will keep you informed as plans develop.

Female Genital Mutilation: Pressure must continue to make reporting of FGM mandatory. FGM became illegal in New Zealand in 1995 but the incidence of the practice is unknown as there is no requirement for reporting. New Zealand is a signatory to and bound by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. Article 19 (2) of the convention requires reporting for both statistical and judicial purposes but New Zealand is in breach of the convention as it has neither.


Sara Passmore

The End of the Road for the Assisted Dying Campaign

Reprinted from The Open Society Vol 93, No 3 Oct 2020

On 17 October 2020 New Zealanders voted to decide whether the End of Life Choice Act 2019 should come into force. If more than 50% vote yes, this Act, which has already made its way through the parliamentary process and received Royal Assent, will come into force in 12 months. A preliminary result will be released by the Electoral Commission on Friday 30 October with the final result on Friday 6 November.

The End of Life Choice Act 2019 allows people to access a physician assisted death under certain circumstances. It outlines safeguards aimed at protecting vulnerable people, and protections for medical staff who have a conscientious objection to voluntary euthanasia.

The question for us as humanists and rationalists in New Zealand is, when it comes to voting on this referendum, how do we balance personal autonomy, human rights, and the collective good?

Grant Robertson, Minister of Finance, in the third reading of the End of Life Choices Bill1 stated that: “Death is not just a physical event; it is also a social event.”

If we take the utilitarian principle that the most ethical choice is one that produced the greatest good for the greatest number, is passing the End of Life Choice Act 2019 the most ethical choice we can make?

What New Zealanders think about assisted dying?

Repeated polls in New Zealand show that as a country we support assisted dying. A Newshub-Reid Research Poll in February this year showed 62% in support and 24% opposed the Act2, and more recently a Colmar Brunton Poll in July showed 75% support and 20% opposition3.

Throughout the Bill’s parliamentary process, a number of special interest groups spoke for and against the law change. This led to the adoption of a number of changes in the Act before it was passed by Parliament last year.

These include limiting the eligibility criteria to only people suffering “from a terminal illness that is likely to end the person’s life within six months”, so people who are incurably, but not fatally, suffering would not be eligible. It also includes exclusions. For example, advanced age, and people with disabilities, and mental health issues would not be eligible for these reasons alone.

However, while many of the disability and mental health groups who oppose the Act raised coercion as a concern, and the Act has remedied this through sections including that medical practitioners not being able to initiate conversations about assisted dying, many of the groups still oppose the Act. Often, they cite the current treatment many people with disabilities and mental health issues receive from existing health services, and the lack of funding for services that would improve quality of life and access to health care.

However, in spite of the concerns and practicalities of enacting a law that allows for people to request an assisted death under certain circumstances, there is good reason for supporting the Act.

Lecretia Seales, a New Zealand lawyer and euthanasia campaigner who died of a brain tumour in 2015 stated that: “I want to be able to die with a sense of who I am and with a dignity and independence that represents the way I have always lived my life”.

Currently, people living with progressive illnesses have to make the painful choice to either end their own life alone, and earlier than they’d want, before the illness makes it impossible to take action without assistance, or accept what could be a long, painful death.

Is it against the Māori world view?

Atuakore, the Māori Atheists and Freethinkers group, states that in pre-colonial Māori society there was a form of euthanasia, where death was sped up for people who were incurably suffering.

This was echoed by Hon Peeni Henare4 in the House of Representatives debates: “The question I ask to those who say “This is not a Māori custom” is this: are you talking about a custom that has existed since the arrival of non-Māori, or is it a true Māori custom? If these people read up on the histories that have been recorded by our ancestors, they will see that Māori were able to hasten the death of another if that person was terminal, if that person was afflicted with a disease that ensured that they are not long for this world. Therefore, my ancestors have said to me, “There is no issue with easing a person’s departure, or a person’s passing into the long night.”

Furthermore, co-founder of Atuakore, Henare Parata, said that there is no one overriding tikanga that is permanently unchanging and should be rigidly adhered to, stating that, “And even if there was a tikanga – why couldn’t it change? All tikanga can (and have) change! The overriding principle on this issue is manaakitanga: providing the utmost care and comfort to others.”

However, Hon Peeni Henare pointed out that the House of Representatives is not the stage for a debate on custom-based issues. Stating, “I would say: this is not the house for that type of debate. I say that laws are different to the customs and traditions of our ancestors.”

MP Willie Jackson told Parliament that three high-profile Māori leaders he had spoken with said “they were tired of hearing this was a violation of our culture. “All were unanimous that in their view tikanga evolves, tikanga changes and there is no one tikanga,” he said.

As a humanist

While death is something universal, the meaning of death is not.

Humanists are non-religious people who live by moral principles based on reason and respect for others. We believe that this present and physical world is the only life we experience and use reason to guide our decision making.

Our concern for quality of life and respect for personal autonomy led to the view that in many circumstances assisted dying, or voluntary euthanasia, is the morally right course.

Humanist organisations in New Zealand have long supported reforming the law to enable mentally competent adults who are either terminally ill or those who are incurably suffering, permanently incapacitated and who find their lives intolerable, to have the choice of an assisted death.

The case for equality

Being able to die, with dignity, in a manner of our choosing must be understood to be a fundamental human right.

The question “do we have a right to die” may seem strange to ask when it is a natural process that is inevitable for all of us. But as suicide is not illegal, and people are legally entitled to refuse life-saving or life-prolonging treatments, the question of whether we have a right to die is a pertinent one. Many of the strongest campaigners for voluntary euthanasia and assisted dying have been people seeking this right.

Nick Chisholm, a New Zealander who has lived with locked-in syndrome since 2000, recognised that the option to end his own life was unavailable to him unless he was willing to starve himself. In an article in the British Medical Journal he said: “I thought of suicide often (mainly when alone in bed at night). I never had enough courage then to go through with it. Even if I wanted to do it now I couldn’t, it’s physically impossible.”5

In the UK late last year, Paul Lamb, who is paralysed from the neck down and living in constant pain, failed in his legal fight for the right to die. He argued that the current UK law, which prohibits any assistance in ending another person’s life, with the threat of a sentence of up to fourteen years’ imprisonment, breaches his human rights against discrimination (Article 14) and respect for private life (Article 8)6.

While some disability groups have urged New Zealanders to reject this law change, the issues they often raise are fear of coercion and slippery slope arguments. The reality is that a majority of people campaigning for assisted death are using disability anti-discrimination laws as the cornerstone of their campaigns7,8.

It should be noted that, even in the event that New Zealand’s assisted dying law passes, people with incurable conditions regardless of the level of suffering, would not be eligible for an assisted death.

As an individual

Many humanists believe that individuals should be allowed to decide on personal matters for themselves, so long as that decision doesn’t harm others; and that if someone in possession of full information and sound judgement decides that their continued life has no value, their wishes should be respected.

Philosopher AC Grayling noted that “Dying is an act of living; it is indeed one of the most important events in life, and because it can be pleasant or painful, timely or untimely, tragic or desired, it is central to the character and quality of a person’s life as he himself experiences it. We do not experience death, which is not an activity but a state – a state of non-existence indistinguishable from being unborn. But we very much experience dying, and just as we hope that most of our acts of living will be pleasant, we likewise desire that the act of dying should be so too – or if not pleasant then at very least not frightening, painful or undignified.9

As Lecretia Seales states, “I am the one who has been inflicted with this disease, no-one else. It is my life that has been cut short. So, who else but me should have the authority to decide if and when the disease and its effects are so intolerable that I would prefer to die? I want to be able to die with a sense of who I am and with a dignity and independence that represents the way I have always lived my life”

Currently, the needs and autonomy of patients are often disregarded. Anecdotally, we know that some people are in fact helped to die by doctors or nurses but without the safeguards that legislation would bring. Compassionate doctors, who follow the wishes of their terminally ill or incurably suffering patients by assisting them to die, risk being charged with assisting suicide or murder. The current system also results in close relatives being faced with the immensely difficult choices of whether, knowing that it is unlawful, to assist a loved one who is begging for help to put an end to their suffering or not to act and hence prolong their suffering.

As a member of our society

If a good death is one surrounded by friends and family does this Act allow us to have more ‘good deaths’?

In New Zealand our understanding of the importance of wider family, whānau and hapū is part of our identity. While as humanists we may focus on the reduction of suffering for the individual, we need to recognise the impact this legislation change may have of the well-being of the wider group.

Assisted dying is not a replacement for palliative care. People who support assisted dying also support quality palliative care. The aim is to reduce an individual’s suffering, and respecting a person’s right to be treated as an autonomous human being. Some studies have found that the opportunity to discuss death freely and extensively in an open atmosphere with a loved one, and being able to share in a ‘good death’, may make it easier to come to terms with an impending death and reduce the trauma10.

Palliative care will not always be an adequate solution for all people. For example, some people may not want to go into a hospital, others would prefer to die while they are fully alert and able to say goodbye to their family. The End of Life Choices Act allows for more choices for individuals, but doesn’t remove the need for well-funded and accessible palliative care.

Grant Robertson, in the House of Representatives, in support of the Act, stated: “It is not easy to do difficult things, but unless we do difficult things, we will never do important things.”                                                                        

Sara Passmore is a past President of Humanist New Zealand and continues as a council member and Treasurer of Humanist NZ. Sara is presently Vice-President of the New Zealand Association of Rationalists and Humanists. Sara is the former Head of Education and Membership of the British Humanist Association. As well as an MBA she has a Bachelor of Education and a Bachelor of English Literature from Victoria University of Wellington. She is a Fellow of the Royal Society of the Arts, a member of the Royal Society of New Zealand, and a member of the End of Life Choices Society.

1 House of Representatives. End of Life Choices Third Reading. (2019). November 13, 2019. (Volume 742; Page 15048). Retrieved from https://www.parliament.nz/en/pb/hansard-debates/rhr/combined/HansDeb_20191113_20191113_16

2 Newshub. (18 February 2020). New poll shows support for both recreational cannabis and euthanasia dropping. Retrieved from: https://www.newshub.co.nz/home/politics/2020/02/new-poll-shows-support-for-both-recreational-cannabis-and-euthanasia-dropping.html

3 Graham, R. (27 July 2020). Lecretia Seales’ widower praises Kiwis for poll showing support for doctor assisted euthanasia. One News. Retrived from https://www.tvnz.co.nz/one-news/new-zealand/lecretia-seales-widower-praises-kiwis-for-poll-showing-support-doctor-assisted-euthanasia-q03174.html

4 House of Representatives. End of Life Choices Third Reading. (2019). November 13, 2019. (Volume 742; Page 15048). Retrieved from https://www.parliament.nz/en/pb/hansard-debates/rhr/combined/HansDeb_20191113_20191113_16

5 Chisholm, Nick & Gillett, Grant. (2005). The patient’s journey: Living with locked-in syndrome. BMJ (Clinical research ed.). 331. 94-7. 10.1136/bmj.331.7508.94.

6 Politics.co.uk. (5 July, 2019). Paralysed man Paul Lamb applies to High Court to change assisted dying law. Retrieved from https://www.politics.co.uk/opinion-formers/humanists-uk/article/paralysed-man-paul-lamb-applies-to-high-court-to-change-assi

7 Dignity in Dying. Tony Nicklinson. Retrieved from: https://www.dignityindying.org.uk/assisted-dying/the-law/tony-nicklinson/

8 Singer P. Ms B and Diane Pretty: a commentary. Journal of Medical Ethics 2002;28:234-235. Retrieved from: https://jme.bmj.com/content/28/4/234

9 Grayling, A.C. (2001). Diane Pretty – the case for her right to choose. Retrieved from http://www.acgrayling.com/dianne-pretty-the-case-for-her-right-to-choose

10 The Ontario HIV Treatment Network. (June 2017), Impact of medical assistance in dying on family and friends. http://www.ohtn.on.ca/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/RR118_MAiD-1.pdf

Humanity is the neglected God  

(c) 25 Oct 2020 A.Millane ( A Humanist in Australia )

Does a leaf sing the praise of the tree as it falls

Does a dying dog whimper thanks to his ancestors balls

Does an echo take stock of the thoughts overheard

These ghosts of belief that seem so absurd

Did the words of the monkey men writing scripture books

Leave all mankind like a bunch of headless chooks

It was thee – and thou – and forsooth yea verily

But it all reads like a bunch of crap to me

If a man loses his leg, an accident grim

Does that dead leg go to heaven – waiting for him?

Or is it in hell? But then the sinner changes ways

Will he later be in heaven, while the leg in hell pays?

And the judgement final, absurd in conception,

Why should man pay for a world of deception?

Where is the contract in which I ever agreed

To live by some rule that some invisible decreed

The sheer foundation of all these churches of God

Does not stack up, all the logic is odd

Even a vengeful god, on high uppermost

Would not endlessly move the fucking goalposts

No these religions and Holy men, they write the rules

And all of you sheep, they fuck you like fools

The only gods are the breezes and the seas

That bring the life to you and me

And they ask no contract, except that you care

Because man cannot live without water and air

The only deity you need to find

Is duty to self, and mastery of mind

Take down the temples, or give them to the poor

They are a symbol of the dark ages before

There is not a prayer that is not a lie

Except for the caring for you and I

As you pour out your dream to the altar so odd

I just see – Humanity is the neglected God