Bias, bigotry, and euthanasia

bias bigotry david seymour

Arguably one of the most revealing public debates taking place in New Zealand over the last week was one on Newshub Nation, between Dr Sinead Donnelly and David Seymour.

Donnelly is a medical specialist with extensive experience of palliative care and dying people in four countries, and a Senior Lecturer at Otago University Wellington debated Seymour a politician, and campaigner for the End of Life Choice Act.

With deep feeling, Dr Donnelly stated her view and that of many other medical professionals that the End of Life Choice Act is an unsafe and ‘dangerous’ law, which could imperil the lives of thousands of vulnerable people every year.

She referred to how many doctors see the Act as entirely ineffective in safeguarding against ‘coercion’, which is impossible to detect, as it is often an internalisation of felt external pressures and suggestions.

Mr Seymour responded asserted that the safeguards were ‘rigorous’, but unconvincingly.

What was especially shocking about the interview was that Mr Seymour accused Dr Donnelly of ‘just making up false objections’ in ‘an attempt to mislead’, and that she should just come out and honestly admit that her objections to euthanasia are all based on her religious views.

This accusation was obviously deeply offensive to Dr Donnelly.

She replied that her objections were entirely based on her clinical experience and the views of many others doctors and lawyers that the Act was very unsafe.

She also said that Mr Seymour’s accusation was ‘disgraceful sectarian comment’ and ‘bigotry at its utmost’.

A week or so earlier, Mr Seymour had taken a similar approach in his response to a statement of the Catholic Bishops. Instead of addressing their points about the lack of strong safeguards in the Act, he said that the bishops ‘may have a philosophical view that life belongs to God’, but ‘they don’t have the right to force it on others’.

He added that that ‘if the bishops want their freedoms respected, they need to engage in honest debate that respects others have difference choices from theirs’.

Again, the implication was that religious people are being dishonest in the reasons they give for opposing the End of Life Choice Act, and that their criticisms should be disregarded.

So is it true that it is only ‘religious’ people who oppose the End of Life Choice Act?

No, clearly not.

Is it true that many ‘religious’ people do oppose it? Yes.

Is their objection on ‘religious’ grounds? To a significant extent, yes: ‘religious’ people have very high regard for the God-given value of human life, and many of them prioritise the care of vulnerable people over their own individual freedoms.

Should ‘religious’ people be free to hold and articulate their views publically? Absolutely yes.

Are ‘religious’ people somehow being deceitful or scaremongering in exposing the weaknesses and dangers in this Act? No, these are entirely valid critiques.

Are ‘religious’ people seeking to impose their own personal ‘religious’ morality on society? No, they are making a legitimate ethical case that this Act is not safe for society in the long run, especially for society’s old, sick, frail, and disabled; the care of society’s vulnerable is certainly a moral issue, and all members of society depend on that for our own safety.

Is a society that dismisses ‘religious’ viewpoints going to be safe for anyone? We think not.

  • Rev Dr Stuart Lange, is a historian and Senior Research Fellow School of Theology at Laidlaw College. He currently serves as National Director, New Zealand Christian Network.

Watch David Seymour’s performance.


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