With the leadership change and reshuffle of National’s caucus, I took the opportunity to ask Simon Bridges for more comprehensive responsibilities for Seniors, including Associate Health and Veterans Affairs. Of course Conservation will always be near to my heart and I’ll keep doing all I can to help achieve the “moonshot” goal of saving our native birds by ridding our country of rats, stoats and possums #predatorfree2050. Saving the planet starts in our own backyards so I’ll be doing my bit on the home front to get rid of the pests & weeds here on the peninsula. But as the former Minister for Seniors, for three years I became increasingly aware that the challenges facing older New Zealanders needed a more comprehensive approach which is why I asked for Associate Health with specific responsibility for Alzheimer’s/ dementia, healthy ageing and end of life care.
An ageing population is not something to fear but it does need to be carefully planned for and no matter how healthy we all try to be there will inevitably be more need for medical intervention which must be available whenever and wherever it’s needed. I’m currently organising Seniors morning teas where we will be inviting guests to discuss the big questions- should we raise the age of entitlement from 65 to 67 in the next few decades; what would an age friendly Devonport look like; how do you make an ‘end of life care plan’; the pros and cons of Power of Attorney and a contentious and topical issue currently before Parliament - do you support changing the Crimes Act to allow assisted suicide and euthanasia? I took part in the first of what I hope will be many ‘Courageous Conversations’ which was very well organised by the local Catholic Church at St Leo’s last week, talking about the End of Life Choice bill, which I am totally opposed to.
Being with the people we love when they are dying is a deeply personal and emotional experience which is why opinions are so deeply divided and why this bill is a conscience vote in Parliament.
Since my father’s death at Mary Potter Hospice in the late 90’s, I’ve been involved with palliative care as Patron of Hospice NZ and chairing a working party on the care of people who are dying. My mothers ten year journey with dementia revealed to me just how vulnerable older people with reduced capacity are and how many don’t have advocates or family and friends around them to help in times of need. As Minister for Seniors I was very aware that with more than 2000 reported cases a year, the growing scourge of physical, emotional, psychological and financial elder abuse needed to be addressed urgently which is why I set up the free 24/7 phone line 0800 EA NOT OK or 0800 32 668 65.
I’ve just been appointed Deputy Chair of the Justice Select Committee which will be reading and hearing the opinions of the 28,000 people who felt strongly enough about this bill to take the time to make a submission. I voted against the Seymour bill at its first reading because having read it very carefully, in my view there are no genuine safeguards to protect the vulnerable, whether they are 18 or 80 from coercion, abuse and easy access to assisted suicide. I wholeheartedly support the position taken by the vast majority of health professionals who are ethically opposed to killing their patients and don’t want this bill passed into law. They are asking for better resourced, high quality and more readily available palliative care and I agree it’s a priority which is why I’ve drafted a Members bill I’m taking to Caucus next week. My bill would amend the health and disability act to enshrine universal access to palliative care with DHBs and other entities required to produce and fund strategies to provide palliative care and support.
I’d welcome your views on these difficult issues and you can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or ring my Takapuna Office on 09 486 0005.