Wednesday, 21 March 2018

QotD: "There is all the difference in the world between treating people equally and attempting to make them equal"

"There is all the difference in the world between treating people equally and attempting to make them equal. While the first is the condition of a free society, the second means (as De Tocqueville describes it) 'a new form of servitude.'"
~ Friedrich Hayek

Tuesday, 20 March 2018

QotD: Security is a superstition

"I am only one; but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something; I will not refuse to do the something I can do. Life is either a daring adventure or nothing. Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature."
~ Helen Keller

Monday, 19 March 2018

“Let me be very clear about this. This is something we are working on and I can’t give you those answers at the moment.”

In picking out the perfect quote, Pete George ably sums up the PM in reviewing her weekend TV performance after her 'toughest week yet' in politics:
She is adept at sounding strong and clear, but being vague:
“Let me be very clear about this. This is something we are working on and I can’t give you those answers at the moment.”
A quote that may come to sum up her administration.

Saturday, 17 March 2018

QotD: Socialism v creativity

"One of the lesser known disasters of socialism is its impact on creativity. Socialists waste their creative energies artfully disseminating preposterous falsehoods. Meanwhile, opponents of socialism waste their creative energies artfully arguing for banal truths."
~ Ben Irvine.

Friday, 16 March 2018

Trump and other hypocrites

America's protectionist president wants to Make America Great by building a tariff wall around its economy. But he's not the only hypocrite here explains Oliver Hartwich in this guest post.

US President Donald Trump’s new protectionism is populist, wrong and dangerous. Sadly, that does not mean that his loudest opponents can automatically claim the moral high ground.

Since David Ricardo explained in 1817 why countries trading with each other are always better off without trade restrictions, the economics profession has been in favour of free trade.

History has since provided plenty of examples to support Ricardo’s theory of comparative advantage.

Neither theory nor practice prevented Trump’s attack on trade over the past weeks. First, he imposed steel and aluminium tariffs. Now, he has threatened European carmakers with high import duties.

Ironically, as a politician President Trump behaves differently from the property entrepreneur he once was. When his own company once needed aluminium for the façade of a new hotel in Chicago, he was all too happy to accept a bargain price and imported the materials from China.

Trump is hypocritical as he now opposes the same trade practices he personally benefitted from.

But Trump’s opponents do not lack in hypocrisy, either. The same people now crying the loudest about Trump’s war on free trade could do with a look in the mirror.

For a start, the European Union has been vocal in its opposition to Trump’s new tariffs. How dare Trump threaten Mercedes and BMW with new import duties, they complain.

Well, the Europeans’ own track record on car imports is not that impressive either. Tariffs on imported cars are 2.5 percent in the US – but 10 percent in the EU.

If the Europeans cared for their credibility and economic efficiency, they should slash their own car import duties to 2.5 percent (or, better still, to zero).

Trump’s attack on steel and aluminium imports should also sound familiar to the Europeans. Their own anti-dumping department has been busy shielding the European market from allegedly unfair competition for more than a decade.

On most measures, the EU is more protectionist than the US, with an average weighted tariff of 3 percent compared with the US’ 2.4 percent.

Even here in New Zealand, we should be careful with critiquing Trump’s protectionism. Though generally free-trading, we still charge duties on items such as shoes, accessories and clothing for no good reason.

When discussing free trade, most governments sit in their own glasshouses.

Trump’s protectionism deserves a response. But it should be an even greater commitment to free trade, not retaliation.

Oliver Hartwich is the Executive Director of the NZ Initiative, and the recipient of then UK PM David Cameron's jibe that "The sooner he gets on the ship the better."

But is it capitalism?

[Hat tip Prodos]

Thursday, 15 March 2018

Bonus Quote of the Day, #StephenHawking

“No one created our universe, and no one directs our fate. This leads me to a profound realisation; There is probably no heaven, and no afterlife either. We have this one life to appreciate the grand design of the universe, and for that I am extremely grateful.”
~ physicist Stephen Hawking (1942-2018)
[Hat tip Richard Dawkins]

Quote of the Day: The solution

"...the solution of the difficulty is the discovery of the truth."
~ Aristotle, from Book VII of his Nicomachean Ethics

Wednesday, 14 March 2018

Soviet Communism Was Dependent on Western Technology

As books like Werner Keller's East Minus West = Zero have thoroughly laid out (published in Britain as Are the Russians Ten Feet Tall?), Russia's strength has almost always been illusory: its technology and industry over many centuries frequently either borrowed or simply stolen wholesale from the West. And as this guest post by Philip Vander Elst explains, during the Soviet era as well the vast majority of the Soviet Union's technology came from Western capitalist sources. In one form or another, Western capital, “know-how,” and technology actually pulled Soviet Communism’s chestnuts out of the fire in nearly every decade of the Soviet Union’s existence...
Despite the central role played by State-controlled central banks and financial institutions in bringing about the conditions which led to the global credit crunch of 2008, free markets and capitalism, rather than
government failure, have taken all the blame for that complex crisis, and Marxism and other varieties of socialism are once again attracting the enthusiastic support of many young people in our universities and colleges.

Unfortunately, however well-intentioned, this renewed interest in hard-core socialism, and the belief that it offers relevant solutions to our existing problems ignores the lessons taught by the many failed socialist experiments of the 20th century, some of which are described by two American economists: Kevin D. Williamson, in his recent paperback, The Politically Incorrect Guide to Socialism, and Thomas J. D. Lorenzo, in his equally informative and well-documented new study, "The Problem with Socialism."

What I wish to do in this article is to draw the attention of open-minded Left-wing readers to the significant but little-known and highly-relevant fact that, for decades, Western capitalist technology sustained the failed economic experiment of Soviet Communism, rescuing it from the full consequences of its inherent systemic weaknesses until its final collapse in 1991.

"Western Interference"
This failure of the Marxist model in post-1917 revolutionary Russia, and its subsequent parasitical dependence on Western capitalism was set out in detail in my paper, "Capitalist Technology for Soviet Survival," published in 1981 by the Institute of Economic Affairs. All I have room for here, a generation later, is to provide a brief summary of some of the relevant arguments and evidence presented in that paper. That this should be necessary nearly 30 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall was recently underlined by the views expressed by Fiona Lali, president of the Marxist Society at London University’s School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), during a recent interview on Radio 4’s Today program.

Asked about the failure of Soviet Communism following her previous comment that capitalism had outlived its usefulness, “she claimed that it had ‘never had the chance to develop’ because of interference from the West.”

Not surprisingly, the British historian Dominic Sandbrook, from whose article in the Daily Mail this quotation is taken, commented: “My real thoughts about Ms. Lali’s version of history are not fit for publication,” and one can easily understand his incredulity.

To begin with, the widespread belief on the Left that Soviet Communism took over an oppressive society and a backward rural economy that it subsequently and heroically transformed into an advanced and powerful industrial state, improving workers’ rights and the living standards of the mass of the population in the process, is the very opposite of the truth.
Pre-Revolutionary Russia

While pre-revolutionary Russia was backward compared to Britain, Germany, and the United States, its economy was developing rapidly and its society was undergoing significant liberalization in the last decades of Tsarist rule. During 18 of the last 25 years before the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, Tsarist Russia enjoyed the highest rate of industrial growth in the world, and by 1913 was overtaking France as the world’s fourth industrial power.

As for the progress of liberalisation, here below is a summary of what had been achieved that will startle many readers, coming as it does from the pen of a great Russian historian and political scientist of Hungarian origin: the late Professor Tibor Szamuely, a former Red Army veteran imprisoned by Stalin, and a former Vice-Rector of Budapest University and Lecturer in Politics at Reading University until his untimely death in 1971.

To quote from his pamphlet, Communism and Freedom, published by the Conservative Political Centre in September 1969:

Few people in the West realise to what extent before the Revolution, in the early years of the 20th century, Tsarist Russia had full freedom of the press—no censorship: even Bolshevik papers and books were freely printed—full freedom of foreign travel, independent trade unions, independent courts, trial by jury, a fairly advanced system of social legislation, etc. Tsarist Russia had a parliament, a Duma, with MPs elected from various parties, including the Bolsheviks. This was not a full parliament in the English sense of the word (the executive was not responsible to parliament), but today, on the whole, pre-revolutionary Russia would be regarded as a model democracy, and compared to most of the hundred and twenty-odd countries inhabiting the United Nations Organisation, one of the fifteen or twenty most liberal states in the world.

After decades of Communist rule, by contrast, with its concentration of all power, ownership, and resources in the hands of the omnipotent Marxist State, tens of millions of people had died in internal repression under Lenin and his successors, the seeds of liberty and democracy had been totally stamped out, trade unions had become the passive and subservient organs of the Communist Party, corruption had become universal, and the mass of the population had been reduced to a condition of penury, misery, and serfdom.

Post-Revolutionary Russia

Here are just a few key facts about the material conditions of life under Soviet Communism.

According to such scholars as Professor Sergei Propokovich, Dr. Naum Jasny, and Mrs. Janet Chapman, the real wages of Soviet industrial workers in 1970 were hardly higher than in 1913. Similarly, the Swiss economist Jovan Pavlevski calculated in 1969 that the real wages of Soviet industrial workers attained the level of 1913 only in 1963. Pavlevski also found that the real incomes of Soviet agricultural workers in 1969 were only 1.2 percent higher than in 1913.

In addition, let it be remembered—unlike the pampered Communist elite, with their posh apartments, countryside villas, and privileged access to imported luxury goods—Soviet citizens had to endure the daily misery of constant shortages of the most basic necessities like washing powder, razor blades, meat and vegetables, and many other items we take for granted in the West.

This picture of the generally low living standards suffered under Soviet Communism between 1917 and 1991 darkens further when one includes the evidence of the widespread poverty that existed among old people and the inhabitants of some of the most backward former Soviet republics. Thus, according to Ilja Zemstov, a former professor of sociology at the Lenin Institute of Baku (Azerbaijan), writing in 1976, one in two retired persons in the Soviet Union lived in poverty, and in the Soviet republic of Azerbaijan, 75 percent of the population lived below the poverty line and there were more homes without water, electricity, and toilets than in the whole of Western Europe. Other scholars, also writing in the 1970s, calculated that about half of all housing in the Soviet Union was without running water or sewerage, and living space per person was only about half that available in Western Europe.

But perhaps the most telling single fact revealing the economic bankruptcy of Soviet Communism was the spectacular failure of its inefficient and unproductive collectivised agricultural sector. Despite only representing about 3 percent of the total agricultural area of the Soviet Union, the tiny private holdings cultivated in their spare time by Soviet collective farmers provided one-third of the country’s total agricultural output.
The "Brain Drain" and the Problem with Central Planning

Far from Soviet Communism never having “had the chance to develop” because of interference from the West as Fiona Lali believes, the endemic economic failure and oppressive character of the Soviet Union flowed inevitably from its Marxist model of economic and social development. A society in which the State owns and controls every sector of the economy, and is the sole landlord, employer, doctor, educator, and welfare provider, cannot fail to be destructive of freedom, personal incentives, creativity, and entrepreneurship, while monopolistic government central planning, reflecting the limited knowledge and political priorities of the ruling bureaucracy, inevitably stifles innovation and technical progress. That is why the negative experience of Soviet Communism was repeated in every other Communist revolution and country during the last century.

Given these truths, the idea that Western interference hindered the outworking and therefore the success of the Communist experiment in the Soviet Union is absurd. As will be shown below, the exact opposite was the case. In one form or another, Western capital, “know-how,” and technology actually pulled Soviet Communism’s chestnuts out of the fire in nearly every decade of the Soviet Union’s existence, principally by compensating it for its above-mentioned systemic inability to generate significant levels of indigenous technological innovation.

While there was nothing inherently lacking in the quality of Soviet scientific research, the limitations of central planning and the absence of market mechanisms and incentives prevented the systematic testing of the fruits of research against competing alternatives. Instead of allowing the dispersed knowledge, opinions, and talents of millions of individuals freely co-operating in the marketplace to determine the success or failure of new ideas and discoveries, nearly all economic activity in the Soviet Union was narrowly constrained within the developmental straitjacket imposed by its all-powerful Communist rulers; hence the need to import skilled personnel, know-how, and technology from the freer and more dynamic societies of Western Europe and North America.

And this need, moreover, was all the greater, given the entrepreneurial and skills gap created by the physical liquidation of so many of pre-revolutionary Russia’s most productive and educated citizens, and by the “brain drain” of all those who, by fleeing abroad, managed to escape imprisonment and execution at the hands of Lenin’s killer squads and secret police.

The incredible but little-known story of the manner and extent to which Western Capitalism came to the rescue of Soviet Communism was told in abundant and fascinating detail half a century ago by American scholar Dr. Anthony Sutton, a former Research Fellow of the prestigious Hoover Institution in California, in his massive three-volume study, Western Technology and Soviet Economic Development 1917-1965.

Technological Nursing by the West

The key finding of this exhaustively documented historical survey, based on literally hundreds of official and unofficial Western and Soviet sources and abounding in statistical charts, tables, footnotes, and appendices was that 90 percent of all Soviet technology was of Western origin.

To explain this finding in more detail, Dr. Sutton examined 75 major technological processes in such crucial and diverse sectors as mining, oil, chemicals, machine building, aircraft, communications, agricultural equipment, etc. and estimated the percentage that originated in Russia. The startling results were: between 1917 and 1930, 0 percent; between 1930 and 1945, only 10 percent; and between 1945 and 1965, a mere 11 percent.

While there were some indigenous Soviet advances between 1930 and 1945 in the development of machine guns (!), synthetic rubber, oil drilling techniques, and boilers, such advances were temporary and later abandoned in favor of foreign designs and processes. Between 1946 and 1965 most of the progress of Soviet innovation depended on the “scaling up” of existing plants and technologies imported and copied from the West. This was particularly the case in iron and steel making, electricity generation and rocket technology.

Western capitalism’s breastfeeding of Soviet Communism began in the 1920s during the period of Lenin’s “New Economic Policy” when more than 350 foreign concessions were employed within all sections of the Russian economy except furniture and fittings. Among the foreign firms that flocked to the Soviet Union with their technicians, machinery, and capital were famous names like General Electric, Westinghouse, Singer, Du Pont, Ford, Standard Oil, Siemens, International Harvester, Alcoa, Singer, Krupp, Otto Wolf, and many others, including important British, French, Swedish, Danish, and Austrian companies. And their beneficial impact on the Soviet economy was dramatic.

Thus, for example, by the end of the 1920s, 80 percent of Soviet oil drilling was conducted by the American rotary technique and all refineries were built by foreign corporations. As a result of this transfusion of Western capital and expertise, there was a recovery of Soviet production from almost zero in 1922 in the wake of the civil war provoked by the Bolshevik seizure of power in October 1917 to pre-First World War figures in 1928.

The same pattern carried over into the decade and a half of 1930 to 1945. During these years, the huge industrial plants built for the machine-tool, automobile, aircraft, and tube mill industries were erected by foreign companies, and 300,000 high-quality foreign machine-tools were imported between 1929 and 1940. Throughout the Second World War, moreover, the Soviets (despite their previous treachery in cementing the 1939 Nazi-Soviet Pact) received $11 billion of resources and equipment from the United States under Lend-Lease.

The defeat of Hitler subsequently enabled the Soviet Union to plunder Eastern Europe for her post-war needs. Two-thirds of the German aircraft industry, the major part of her rocket production industry, about two-thirds of her electrical industry, and tons of military equipment were seized by Stalin. The German rocket installations acquired by the Russians, moreover, included the huge underground V-2 plant at Nordhausen, and laid the foundation of the Soviet "Sputnik" program—so even the much-heralded Soviet space effort owed much of its success to the forcible acquisition of Western technology. As an added bonus, the Russians received plants dismantled in the American zone, including such strategic goodies as aircraft plants, ball-bearing facilities, and munition plants.

The technological breastfeeding of Soviet Communism by Western capitalism continued even during the period of the Cold War. From 1959 to 1963, for example, the Soviet Union bought at least 50 complete chemical plants for chemicals not previously produced in the Soviet Union, and Soviet imports increased ten-fold between 1946 and 1966—from 692 million roubles to 7,122 million. In addition to all this, two-thirds of the Soviet merchant fleet had been constructed in the West by 1967.
Not Because, but Despite

The evidence, then, is overwhelming. Soviet Communism did not fail because it wasn’t given enough time to pursue its totalitarian and murderous objectives free of “Western interference.” It failed precisely because of those objectives and despite repeated infusions of Western capital, know-how, and technology, spanning at least five decades.

The central truth of the matter was stated most lucidly and clearly by Russia’s well-known 20th-century writer and dissident, the late Alexander Solzhenitsyn, in a speech in 1975 to American trade unionists:
The Soviet economy has an extremely low level of efficiency… It cannot deal with every problem at once: war, space (which is part of the war effort), heavy industry, light industry, and at the same time the necessity to feed its own population. The forces of the entire Soviet economy are concentrated on war… everything which is lacking… they get from you. So indirectly you are helping them to rearm. You are helping the Soviet police state.”
Let those embracing Marxism in our colleges and universities ponder these things and ask themselves whether the cause they are now embracing is truly worthy of their energy and idealism.

Philip Van der Elst is a freelance writer and lecturer who has spent nearly 30 years in politics and journalism and now works with Areopagus Ministries.  His post previously appeared at CapX and FEE.

QotD: "If President Trump wishes to address America’s merchandise trade deficit..."

"In other words, if President Trump wishes to address America’s merchandise trade deficit (balanced to perfection, of course, by a capital accounts surplus) he will find that allowing the dollar to be used as the global currency is the real snake in the economic woodpile. The dollar’s burden as the international reserve currency, not currency manipulation by our trading partners or bad treaties, is the true villain in the ongoing melodrama of crummy job creation."

~ Ralph Benko, from his article 'President Trump: Replace The Dollar With Gold As The Global Currency To Make America Great Again'

Tuesday, 13 March 2018

When good news is awkward.

Well, this is awkward. Fewer and fewer people are dying from climate-related natural disasters. Indeed, " If we look at the death risk for an individual, the risk reduction is even bigger – dropped almost 99% since the 1920s."

This is great news! So why is it awkward? Because it's clearly opposite of what you normally hear, acknowledges Bjørn Lomborg,
but that is because we're often just being told of one disaster after another – telling us how *many* events are happening. The number of reported events is increasing, but that is mainly due to better reporting, lower thresholds and better accessibility (the CNN effect). For instance, for Denmark, the database only shows events starting from 1976.
....Instead, look at the number of dead per year, which is much harder to fudge. Given that these numbers fluctuate enormously from year to year (especially in the past, with huge droughts and floods in China), they are here presented as averages of each decade (1920-29, 1930-39 etc, with last decade as 2010-17). The data is from the most respected global database, the International Disaster Database, There is some uncertainty about complete reporting from early decades, which is why this graph starts in 1920, and if anything this uncertainly means the graph *underestimates* the reduction in deaths.
....Notice, this does *not* mean that there is no global warming or that possibly a climate signal could eventually lead to further deaths. Instead, it shows that our increased wealth and adaptive capacity has vastly outdone any negative impact from climate when it comes to human climate vulnerability.
....Notice too that the reduction in absolute deaths has happened while the global population has increased four-fold. The individual risk of dying from climate-related disasters has declined by 98.9%. Last year, fewer people died in climate disasters than at any point in the last three decades (1986 was a similarly fortunate year).
....Somewhat surprisingly, while climate-related deaths have been declining strongly for 70 years, non-climate deaths have not seen a similar decline, and should probably get more of our attention.
So if you wish to thank anyone for the fewer climate-related deaths, don't thank an environmentalist. Instead, thank those who've been increasing wealth, and creating new technologies allowing us to make nature more humane.

[Hat tip Stephen Hicks]

Quote of the Day: On getting a better relationship with the news

"Just about every problem we battle in understanding the news today — and every one we will battle tomorrow — is exacerbated by plugging into the social-media herd. The built-in incentives on Twitter and Facebook reward speed over depth, hot takes over facts and seasoned propagandists over well-meaning analysers of news.
    "You don’t have to read a print newspaper to get a better relationship with the news. But, for goodness’ sake, please stop getting your news mainly from Twitter and Facebook. In the long run, you and everyone else will be better off."

~ Farhad Manjooo, from his article 'For Two Months, I Got My News From Print Newspapers. Here’s What I Learned'

Monday, 12 March 2018

Quote of the Day: On the Ayn Rand cult ...

"As to the endlessly recycled 'cultist' charge, is that smear supposed to ignore those who have studied her ideas intensively over decades and find them convincing? How about the fifty members of the Ayn Rand Society, which is affiliated with the American Philosophical Association? Are we to believe that this cult has taken over the brains of the ten philosophers who contributed chapters to the recent volume on Ayn Rand in the Blackwell Companions to Philosophy series?
    "A strange cult this is—a cult devoted to independent thought:
Accept the irrevocable fact that your life depends upon your mind. . . . Redeem your mind from the hockshops of authority. . . . an error made on your own is safer than ten truths accepted on faith, because the first leaves you the means to correct it, but the second destroys your capacity to distinguish truth from error. (Atlas Shrugged)"
~ philosopher Harry Binswanger, replying to the New York Post

BONUS: Here is What's Really Wrong With Ayn Rand's Philosophy!

Saturday, 10 March 2018

QotD: On rewarding parasites

"Few skills are so well rewarded as the ability to convince parasites that they are victims."
~ Thomas Sowell


Friday, 9 March 2018

QotD ""To socialists, there is real value in organising and managing a whole economy's production. But, strangely..."

"To socialists, there is real value in organising and managing a whole economy's production. But, strangely, the organising and management of production processes isn't considered real, valuable work."
~ Per Bylund

Thursday, 8 March 2018

QotD: Yes, there *are* absolutes

"But what is progress? That may seem like a tough question to answer in these culturally relativistic times. But [Steven] Pinker offers an unashamedly humanistic definition of progress...
"'Most people agree that life is better than death. Health is better than sickness. Sustenance is better than hunger. Wealth is better than poverty. Peace is better than war. Safety is better than danger. Freedom is better than tyranny. Equal rights are better than bigotry and discrimination. Literacy is better than illiteracy. Knowledge is better than ignorance. Intelligence is better than dull-wittedness. Happiness is better than misery. Opportunities to enjoy family, friends, culture, and nature are better than drudgery and monotony.'
"Progress is not only definable, but also measurable. In 75 charts, Pinker documents such global trends as increasing life expectancy, declining child and maternal mortality, increased consumption of calories and declining recurrence of famines, increasing income per person and reduction of extreme poverty, decreasing pollution and deforestation, and continuing march of democracy and human rights. He notes that child labour is in retreat and literacy at an all-time high. People work fewer hours than they used to and spend more time on leisure and in retirement."
~ Marian Tupy reviewing Steven Pinker's new book Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress [Emphasis added]

BONUS VIDEO: "The eminent Harvard Professor Steven Pinker joins Stephen Fry to discuss the challenges we face in the 21st century and what we need to do to defend the values and ideas of the Enlightenment.":


Submission to the Justice Select Committee on the End of Life Choice Bill

Did you make your submission supporting David Seymour's End of Life Choice Bill before submissions closed on Tuesday -- supporting your right to voluntary euthanasia?

Jonathan Darby did. and here it is:

Submission to the Justice Select Committee on the End of Life Choice Bill

Jonathan Darby

The End of Life Choice Bill presents the New Zealand Parliament with the valuable opportunity to afford New Zealanders the right to choose for themselves the time of their death when facing an incurable illness with a prognosis of less than 6 months to live and to have the assistance of a trained medical professional

In principle, this submission is in support of the Bill.  The time is overdue for people to have this right, a right that has been denied to many over the years.  In the 21st century we shouldn’t be saying to individuals who are facing death and who would wish to take the option afforded by this Bill ‘sorry you must keep on living and we will do our best to keep you comfortable.’  As a civilised society in the 21st century this does not seem to me to be an acceptable response to an individual who wants to maintain control over their lives.  This Bill does not impose compulsion on anyone; it simply gives someone the ultimate choice over his or her own life.

There are a number of issues that this submission will address, these include Personal autonomy, the sanctity of life and the medical principle of do no harm.  The submission will conclude with some suggested amendments.

Personal autonomy

It has been said that the principle of respecting the autonomous choices of individuals “runs as deep as any principle.”[1]  The origins of this term go back to Greek terminology meaning “self rule.”  This is what we are dealing with in this Bill.  The ability for someone to have self-rule over their lives and the right to decide for themselves when they wish to end their suffering.  This submission argues that as long as the criteria for an autonomous decision are met, that is, they understand:

·      What it is that they are requesting,

·      The consequences of their decision,

·      They are able to communicate that decision and finally

·      The decision is free of coercion or undue influence,

then the individual’s choice must be respected. 

The medical profession has made significant moves away from the paternalistic view of the-doctor-knows best to a model where patients are actively involved in their care.  Indeed this has been put into practice through the Health and Disability Code of Consumer Rights.  It is illogical to afford these rights to patients right up until the very end of their life and then deny them those same rights when it comes to determining for themselves when they wish to end their suffering.

Sanctity of Life

One of the prevalent objections, most notably found in religious communities, is that life is sacred and only God can decide when a person’s time of earth is complete.  We live in a secular society and it is submitted that although we can and should respect the views of religious communities, the views expressed should not carry more weight than any other views.  It is interesting to note that the prevailing view of religious communities against Physician Assisted Suicide is not universally held amongst all religious communities.  Indeed a senior Bishop in the Church of England has come out in support of assisted dying.  He comments that part of honouring the sanctity of life “is respecting people’s integrity to make decisions about themselves.”[2]  He goes on to say that by not allowing those who would seek assisted dying the opportunity of doing so, Parliament is showing those individuals “another form of disrespect.”[3]  This submission agrees entirely with the sentiments expressed by the Bishop.

Do no harm

The concept that a doctor should ‘do no harm’ is often cited in opposition to measures such as those suggested in this Bill.  However, it is submitted that the harm that is referred to in opposition is the physical harm of bringing about the death of an individual.  It fails to consider the other types of harm that might be caused by not allowing an individual the opportunity to end their suffering at the time of their choosing.  These forms of harm include psychological and emotional harm, which could be argued to be far more serious and difficult to endure than physical harm.  If the status quo were to remain, people who have made the decision for themselves that their condition and prognosis is such that they do not wish to prolong their suffering, are not only forced to endure the physical deterioration, but also the emotional and psychological distress which can often accompany it.

The role of the clinician is central to this debate and the question seems to be, what are the boundaries of acceptable modern medical practice?  It is clear that where a doctor has the ways and means to cure their patients or at the very least make their patients condition considerably better, then they should ensure that this happens with the cooperation and support of the patient.  However, it is suggested that this is a very narrow way of looking at the role of the doctor. The modern physicians role is much more holistic and takes into account the patients life as a whole, including their psychological and emotional health.

What this Bill is not

It’s important to address what this Bill is not.  Firstly, it is not about patients being killed by their doctors or as some have put it “a licence to kill.”  These are emotive responses that do not stand up to scrutiny.  The Bill’s title is “End of Life Choice Bill”, the operative word there is ‘choice’.  It must be the patients choice to seek assisted dying, it isn’t and must never become the role of the doctor to suggest death as a course of action and it must never be that the death of a patient is the first option considered.  As suggested in other parts of this submission, death via the means suggested in this Bill should only occur after all other options have been considered and discounted by the patient.

This Bill is not an attack on palliative care.  Palliative care provides a valuable service to the community and helps many people to achieve a peaceful and dignified end.  However, it needs to be recognised that it is not for everyone and can lead a death in circumstances that are less than dignified, despite the best efforts of the clinicians involved.  This Bill provides an option for those who have either discounted palliative care or have been down the palliative care treatment path and have decided that for them, the current treatment is not providing them with the quality end of life that they desire.

It is concerning to see some of the language that those who oppose this Bill have used.  For example it has been suggested, "Legalising euthanasia goes against the core values of the medical profession and will radically change the doctor-patient relationship, ultimately undermining good clinical and palliative care. It will devalue the lives of the elderly and people living with disabilities, and increase the risk of abuse among the most vulnerable New Zealanders,”[4] This submission argues that in passing this Bill, rather than devaluing human life it is doing the opposite. It is valuing the rights of the individual to decide for themselves when their lives no longer have quality. 

With the right safeguards and training, the lives of the elderly and the disabled are no more in danger than they are now.  This Bill does not allow for others to decide when an elderly person or someone with a disability should end their life and it is critical that this remains the case.  The choice whether to make use of the provisions of this Bill should and must remain with the individual concerned, not caregivers or anyone else involved in their care.

Areas of Concerns

Not withstanding the writer’s support of the Bill in principle, there are some concerns that need to be addressed.

Firstly the broad nature of the terms set out in clause 4 (c) (ii) is of concern.  It currently states that an individual can seek assistance to die if they are suffering from “a grievous and irremediable medical condition,” and is experiencing “unbearable suffering that cannot be relieved in a manner that he or she considers tolerable.” The difficulty with this terminology is that the criteria could fit any number of conditions, many of which could be at the very least ameliorated with the right support and advice.  Consideration should be given to tightening the criteria so it only applies to conditions that will deteriorate over time or at the very least, make the tasks of daily living an intolerable burden.

The second concern relates to the medical opinions that must be sought under the Bill, and the lack of a requirement for a specific opinion from a mental health professional.  This is of particular concern because General Practitioners cannot be expected to have the expertise to fully ensure that a person seeking assisted death has considered all the factors relevant to the decision, even if that General Practitioner has been the patient’s doctor for many years.

The lack of such a requirement is even more puzzling because in many other areas, for example the use of assisted reproductive technologies to enable people to have children who would otherwise not have that opportunity, there is a requirement for the parties to receive counselling to ensure that that they fully appreciate the magnitude of the decisions and the consequences that flow from them. It seems unusual and remiss that such a requirement is not in place for when someone is making arguably the biggest decision of all, to end their life.  It is recommended that consideration be given to strengthening the safeguard requirements to require psychological input so that we can have confidence that people seeking this assistance have been made fully aware of the nature and consequences of these actions by a trained mental health professional and that the decision has been reached free of coercion or any other undue influence.

The final area of concern is the narrow window of time during which someone may take advantage of this Bill.  The Bill as drafted only allows for individuals to access assistance to die within six months of their expected death.  It is submitted that this window of time is too short and may have the unintended consequence of ruling out people who have become so debilitated that they are not able to communicate their wishes satisfactorily.  It might be that they could well be in a state that could have been avoided if they were able to take the option of assisted death at an earlier time.  It is suggested that if that window was widened to 12 months, this gives people the opportunity to make the decision at a time when they may feel the most able to do so.


In summary, this submission is in support of the Bill.  It has been said “Human dignity is innate to every person.”[5]  It most certainly is, and this Bill gives individuals the autonomous choice to decide for themselves when they wish to end their suffering with dignity.  I suggest amendments with regard to the criteria to access physician assisted death, the medical assessments, and the time frame in which physician assisted death can be obtained.  This is a Bill whose time has come.  It is time we give individuals the respect and dignity they deserve in their final days. 

[1] Beauchamp T, Childress J, Principles of Biomedical Ethics, 2009, Oxford University Press, p 99
[3] Ibid