Tips for Speaking to MPs
Tips for Speaking to MPs
Do encourage others, especially young people, to visit MPs also!
Aim of the visit
- To find out what the MP thinks about assisted suicide and euthanasia. (Please feed this information back to email@example.com or 0800 42 76 42 afterwards.)
MPs are often reluctant to give a firm view, especially if they haven’t yet read the bill. This question works well: “Are you currently leaning towards supporting or opposing the legalisation of assisted suicide? What are some reasons for your view?”
2. To urge the MP to vote against the Seymour bill at its First Reading.
- You will need an appointment. Please phone the MP’s office ASAP. (See details here)
- You could go alone or with 1 or 2 others. Decide beforehand which points each of you will make. Come across as a team, supporting each other. Have a practice run.
- Have 1 to 3 points written down in front of you, that you can refer to if need be.
- Take a flyer relevant to the euthanasia issue (see here for printables). Keep it in a folder, to prevent it being a distraction while you’re talking. Put the folder on your lap or on the floor, and give the flyer to the MP just before you leave. It would be best to give them no more than a single-sided A4 page with lots of bullet points or an infographic. It’s unlikely that they would read a lot of text.
- Dress well: clean, tidy, smart-casual if you can.
- Be friendly, polite and respectful to the MP and their staff. Make eye contact and smile. Keep your tone of voice calm and gentle. Please remember that the MP may make generalisations about the anti-euthanasia movement based on your manner.
- Be calm and relaxed. The MP is a human being too!
- Instead of addressing the MP by their first name, use their correct title (Mr/Ms/Dr) and their last name (Check this list). If their title is ‘Hon’, address them as ‘Minister’.
- Sell your message to the MP, but also listen respectfully to what they have to say. MPs may give you early clues as to their thoughts. Tailor your message accordingly.
- Keep the conversation single-issue, to prevent the conversation being derailed.
In mentioning an issue that could potentially offend the MP and ‘put you in a box’, you risk him/her dismissing what you said about euthanasia and assisted suicide. Don’t mention any controversial or potentially sensitive issue unless you are an official representative of a group officially involved that issue and it’s relevant to the point you want to make. Issues to avoid include immigration, housing, abortion, same-sex marriage, vaccination, the TPPA, US politics, the Pike River mine, etc.
Don’t use religious arguments unless you know the MP shares your persuasion.
- Don’t stay longer than your allocated time (usually 10-15 minutes).
- It’s OK to say, “I don’t know but I will find out” or, “I would like to think about that more and get back to you.” You could send them an email later.
- Arguments, not facts, are needed to convince people. Facts by themselves are not arguments. Facts and statistics can be used to support arguments, but please use specific numbers and check them before you quote them. Have the reference ready.
- Follow up the meeting with a thank you email, a question, or some follow up material (only about the euthanasia issue and material that would be quick and easy to read.) This keeps the conversation open.
Be clear on the definitions
Suicide is when a person deliberately ends their own life, for any reason, using any method.
Assisted suicide is when a person receives help from someone else to intentionally end their life. The person who dies takes the final action that ends their life (e.g. swallowing pills).
Euthanasia is when the final act that brings about the death is performed by another person (e.g. giving a lethal injection).
Assisted dying is a euphemism for both assisted suicide and voluntary euthanasia.
Euthanasia should not be confused with practices that are legal: Refusing further medical treatment; Refusing or stopping life support; Do not Resuscitate Orders; Receiving enough medication to manage symptoms such as pain, even if it may shorten life as a side effect.
A suggested conversation
- [Friendly greeting with a smile and eye contact.] Introduce yourself in a few words. For example, “I am a teacher / doctor / student / longtime resident of this area”, etc. Or, if appropriate, “We represent the ______ club / group / branch / business / church, etc.”
If you have any common ground, mention it (eg. relatives, friends, school, etc.)
- “Ms ___, I came to talk to you about David Seymour’s End of Life Choice Bill.
“Are you currently leaning towards supporting or opposing the legalisation of assisted suicide? What are some reasons for your view?” (Later, please feed this back to EFNZ.)
- Do communicate the fact that people on both sides of the debate care about people and their suffering. If the MP gives you a personal example, sympathise. Acknowledge their comments about suffering, e.g. “I understand / I know what you mean”.
4. Briefly tell a story from your personal or professional life, if relevant. Have you watched someone die or their health worsen? Do you have a disability, chronic or terminal illness or chronic pain? Do you know someone who may be at risk if assisted suicide is legalised?
5. Do respect the MP’s view. Then talk about your view, with a gentle tone.
“I am strongly opposed to the legalisation of assisted suicide and deeply concerned about David Seymour’s bill. I cannot vote for MPs who will support this dangerous bill. I will base my electorate and party votes on how MPs vote at its First Reading.”
6. If you’ve made a submission to the Health Select Committee, you could mention that you did so, and add that 77% of written submissions were opposed to changing the law.
7. Mention one or two key reasons why the bill should be voted down straight away:
The Seymour bill can’t be ‘fixed’. No matter how such a law is written:
- vulnerable New Zealanders would be at risk (people who are elderly, disabled, mentally ill, dependent on others, in abusive relationships, emotionally vulnerable).
- it would be impossible to ensure everyone’s choice is truly voluntary – free from pressure, abuse or coercion.
- depressed people would be at risk of receiving death instead of care and treatment.
- safeguards would be unenforceable in practice – especially if based on self-reporting (the person performing the death reports whether safeguards were followed).
- it would create two unequal classes of people: those whose suicides are to be discouraged and those whose suicides are to be assisted. This mixed message about suicide would undermine suicide prevention.
- It would discriminate against other groups of people who also feel they are suffering.
- legal assisted suicide would change New Zealand culture for worse. Younger generations would be most affected. They would grow up thinking that death is a normal response to suffering.
Some suggested responses
If they say, “People have the right to choose”, you could say:
People can already choose to request euthanasia. A law change would merely enable another person to choose to perform euthanasia without risking prosecution.
Where legal, the choice really belongs to the doctor, not the patient. In Belgium and the Netherlands some people choose euthanasia but get turned away. Others never choose it, but they still get it. Researchers sent anonymous surveys to doctors who signed death certificates and found that 32% of euthanasia deaths in Flanders, Belgium, occurred without the person’s consent. The same could happen in New Zealand. How many wrongful deaths would society be willing to accept?
People already have the choice to end their own lives if they really want to. That is called suicide. I don’t think people have the right to have other people deliberately end their lives.
Euthanasia and assisted suicide are not individual choices or actions. They involve other people and indirectly, the approval of society.
If people have a ‘right to choose’ then surely such a right would belong to everyone, not only sick people? Are suicidal people not also choosing the timing and manner of their death? Don’t suicide prevention programmes interfere with people’s right to choose their death?
They may say, “I have heard some stories about suffering and horrible deaths so there should be some provision for euthanasia
You could say something like: Perhaps more needs to be done to find out why these people were suffering in those specific cases. Did they receive the care they needed, when they needed it? Were their doctors and nurses adequately trained? Did they receive the psychological and social care they needed? So often a person feels their physical suffering is unbearable because they are suffering from depression, grief, loneliness or hopelessness.
Sometimes the dying person have accepted their situation and is happy to live until their natural death, but the family need counselling or other support to help them process it. They may find the situation ‘horrible’ because it’s unexpected, inconvenient or uncertain. They may feel powerless. They may be confronted with the fact that they too will age and die one day. The situation may stir up their own fears for the future. It’s an emotionally tumultuous time for family and friends. Can more be done to support these communities?
They may say, “But assisted dying is different from suicide
You could say something like: Essentially the only difference between suicide and ‘assisted dying’, assisted suicide, is the number of people involved in bringing about the death. (See definitions above). In both cases the person could feel they are suffering unbearably and desire to prevent future suffering. In both cases the person’s desire to die could be enduring, well-considered and “their own choice”.
They may say,“Isn’t this a religious issue? Religious people shouldn’t push their views on others. Public policy shouldn’t be based on religion”./p>
You could say something like: It isn’t a matter of religious people being against euthanasia and non-religious people being for it. There are religious and non-religious people on both sides of the debate. As cases in point: The past president of the Voluntary Euthanasia Society, Jack Havill, calls himself a Christian. In 2015 Dr Kevin Yuill visited New Zealand. He is an atheist and wrote a book entitled, “Assisted suicide: The liberal, humanist case against legalisation”.
It’s a social justice issue. People who oppose the legalisation of assisted suicide and euthanasia are concerned about the wider implications of a law change, such as the mixed message it would send about suicide and the risks it would pose to vulnerable members of our communities.
If you don’t know what to answer you could say something like, “That’s interesting. I’d like to come back to you later. The real issue is…” or “My concern is…” or “The point I would like to make is….”