Human Rights

Terminally ill woman fights against New Zealand assisted suicide referendum

New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern, Down syndrome

New Zealand will be voting on a referendum next month to legalize assisted suicide and euthanasia. Last year, New Zealand lawmakers passed the End of Life Choice Act allowing terminally ill people given less than six months left to live to request assisted suicide. The bill, however, does requires no witnesses or waiting period. If the referendum passes, it will become law.

Though assisted suicide has growing support across the globe, people are also speaking out against it — people like Vicki Walsh, whose own experience with a terminal illness has led her to strongly oppose assisted killing. In an interview with Newshub, Walsh said she was diagnosed with brain cancer. She was told her diagnosis was terminal, and that she had approximately one year to live.

That was in 2011, and Walsh is now 53, having lived eight years longer than doctors said she would. Yet there were still dark times when she considered suicide. “Obviously euthanasia wasn’t an option, but I had a go at killing myself,” she admitted. “So had euthanasia been an option then, it is probably one I would have taken, not realising I was actually depressed.”

Previously, Walsh had supported assisted suicide. But it was her own unsuccessful suicide attempt that changed her mind.

“Do you know what, I woke up the next day and I had the best day. I kept thinking, ‘What if you’d done it?'” she said. “Why would I take away the fun parts? And people say to me, ‘What happens if there aren’t any fun parts?’ I say I don’t know. But I am prepared to see that journey through because I don’t believe in anybody deliberately ending someone else’s life.”

Walsh also said she wonders if a legal euthanasia option would have caused her to feel “pressured into doing it” because she “wouldn’t have had those few quiet moments on my own.”

READ: New Zealand hospice organization begs court to let it to opt out of assisted suicide

Though Walsh’s cancer is growing and she believes she will die soon, she is hoping to hold on for as long as she can. “I really, really wanted to see my granddaughter in Perth. That was the goal and that’s not going to happen. And that’s not going to happen because of COVID,” Walsh said. “She was due to arrive here on July 3. I suffer for my children. My husband has been such a rock. I don’t want to rob my children that one smile or one kiss.”

More than anything, though, Walsh wants to make her voice heard. “I’m hoping, really hoping, that I will get my vote in and make my vote count.”

Walsh joins a growing chorus of people living with disabilities and terminal illnesses who are speaking up about how their lives have worth and value. Many of them, like Claire Freeman, a tetraplegic model, have been told they would be good candidates for assisted suicide despite multiple previous suicide attempts. Multiple studies from numerous medical journals have found that people typically do not pursue euthanasia out of fear of pain or a “bad death” but because of depression and hopelessness, a  lack of support, and fear of being a burden to people around them. When these issues are addressed, the request for assisted suicide is often withdrawn.

New Zealanders now face a choice of whether or not they will value the lives of all — including the poor, the elderly, the disabled, and the ill.

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