Hamilton woman Heather Major is staging a 24-hour vigil at Hamilton’s Garden Place to raise awareness of the details of the End of Life Choice Act New Zealanders will vote on in the upcoming election.
“I've decided to hold a 24-hour vigil in Garden Place because what I'm finding within our community is not enough people are informed for such a colossal decision. This will impact those able to make a free, personal choice but also our most vulnerable people. We need to take the gravity of this seriously,” Heather said.
Heather has been involved in assisted dying research and conversations for about five years and recently her 18-year-old daughter Rachel has joined her education campaign.
“We have spoken at events across the region. We have been invited as educators as we are familiar with the Act inside and out and have our own experience of my husband and Rachel’s father Glenn’s terminal cancer journey. He was given just six months to live when Rachel was a baby and went on to live for the best part of a decade, which gave Rachel the chance to get to know her Dad and make many happy memories.”
Heather will sit in Garden Place for 24 hours from lunchtime this Sunday to lunchtime Monday with a sign “#our whanau, our concern”. She actively opposes the End of Life Choice Act 2019 coming into force.
“My biggest concern about this monumentally flawed Act is that nowhere in the process is there an independent witness, for the protection of both the patient and the doctor. Other countries with similar legislation require 2 independent witnesses when a person signs their request in front of the doctor. This Act has no witnesses at all. Many Kiwi voters don’t know that.”
Heather has actively supported several people with terminal and chronic illnesses and disabilities since her husband was diagnosed with a brain tumour in 1997, and more recently in her role as a minister.
“Many people are completely unaware that Māori health model – Te Whare Tapa Whā – is missing in action from this Act, and that there are about 200 lawyers, both for and against assisted dying, who strongly oppose the Act in its current form. (Lawyers for Vulnerable New Zealanders).”
Heather’s motivation for the vigil is helping others to be informed of exactly what they are voting for before election day. She will speak on the hour every hour about the Act for anyone who comes.
Her other, more personal reasons, for her tireless five-year campaign, are listed below.
“At times, it has been a lonely journey for Rachel and for me. Many people are complacent and under-educated about this matter of massive societal change with regard to how we face dying and potentially allowing for one person to legally end the life of another. I’d ask every New Zealander to be well-informed, so they can make an educated call with their vote.”
Heather says she is staging the End of Life Choice Act vigil for:
My homeless friend with a terminal illness whom I failed to help.
My late husband Glenn whom I loved in sickness and in health, till death did us part. He outlived his first 6-month prognosis by eight years.
My brave daughter Rachel who speaks about the vulnerability of sick parents who feel like a burden and about the disregard for whānau in the Act.
Claire Freeman who was encouraged to go to Switzerland to die when she went to a NZ Suicide Prevention clinic https://www.defendnz.co.nz/
Dr Huhana Hickey and about 200 other lawyers both for and against assisted dying who oppose the Act because of the 37 fatal flaws they have identified https://lvnz.org/
Dominique Tamihana sharing Maori concerns at http://whanauconcern.nz/
Voters/lawmakers in what I call the 4th camp who want the choice of assisted dying for themselves but won’t vote for this Act because it is unsafe for others.
The sick people I care for now and in the future and their families and friends.
The 94-year-old woman who at 91 years of age in a New Zealand hospital was asked if she wanted euthanasia by her doctor.
Those who are dying believing they are unloved or unloveable.
The doctor who said he won’t be referring a patient to another doctor because he won’t assist any of his patients to die.
Those who know or are just realising Te Whare Tapu Whā is missing from the Act.
The healthy older adults who support assisted dying not because of pain but because of fear of becoming disabled and not wanting to become a burden.
For those looking for safeguards like independent witnesses, counsellors, cooling-off periods and assessments for competence, coercion or depression and finding them missing.
Raymond Mok and Vicki Walsh who bravely shared their stories with the nation https://www.votesafe.nz/
Local Hamilton woman Kylee Black who told us when a choice is not a choice https://www.riskylaw.nz/
Palliative care physicians and teams who never stop trying to treat the symptoms of dying patients.
Grandparents and equally all those without family who are tempted to die prematurely.
E: email@example.com (don’t forget the ‘j’) https://youtu.be/ZA5qEOVC8pc
Pictured above: Heather cared for her husband Glenn who had a brain tumour for 14 years. He was eligible for assisted dying under the Act when Rachel was 1, then 4 but he didn't die till she was 9.