Grant Illingworth, QC: "The Crown's fundamental obligation is to govern and protect every subject ... Opening the door to assisted suicide, without an absolute assurance that mistakes will never be made, would egregiously breach that obligation."
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02 May, 2019
By Grant Illingworth QC
It is a fundamental obligation of the government to protect us all. In law, we are all – even visitors and those who do not have the right to live here – subjects of the Crown. This principle, concerning the responsibility of government, was established in 1608 in a famous decision known as Calvin's case. One of the most important aspects of that case was that it identified the essential features of the relationship between the individual and the sovereign.
The individual, whether resident or visitor, owes allegiance to the sovereign; the sovereign owes a reciprocal obligation, which is to govern and protect the Crown's subjects. The judgment in Calvin's case says this: "But between the Sovereign and the subject there is without comparison a higher and greater connexion; for as the subject oweth to the King his true and faithful ligeance and obedience, so the Sovereign is to govern and protect his subjects."
By mobilising armed police after the Christchurch mosque attacks, the Crown was fulfilling its fundamental duty to protect the lives of the public.
The Crown's duty to protect its subjects applies to everyone, but it is naturally most relevant to the weak, the vulnerable and the defenceless, including the elderly, those suffering serious illness and those who have lost the ability to think clearly and make informed decisions for themselves.
It is extremely common for those involved in legal matters to encounter situations where weak or vulnerable people and those who can't stand up for themselves are taken advantage of by others through acts of dishonesty, intimidation and violence. In designing a justice system to shield everyone from such behaviour, the Crown carries out its reciprocal obligation to govern and protect its subjects.
This form of protection is particularly evident in laws relating to unlawful homicide, including murder, manslaughter and provisions concerning assisted suicide. These have been carefully designed to shield the lives of individuals threatened by the wrongful conduct of others and to provide a general protection for the lives of all members of our community, particularly those most at risk.
Any attempt to diminish the protection that those laws provide must, on any rational view, be subjected to the most anxious examination and scrutiny. As the greatest jurists throughout history have consistently recognised, the safety of the people is the supreme law: Salus populi suprema lex esto.
Parliament is presently considering enacting legislation which would significantly diminish the protection currently provided by the law relating to unlawful homicide. The measures being promoted under the End of Life Choice Bill are half-baked, poorly drafted and dangerous.
Freedom of choice is an appealing doctrine, and sympathy for the terminally ill and their suffering provides a compelling context too. However, egocentricity and self-interest are irradicable aspects of human nature, and it would be a grievous mistake for MPs to overlook the larger danger of exposing weak, vulnerable and defenceless people to the depredations of those prepared to advance their own interests by influencing others to end their lives prematurely.
The Crown's fundamental obligation is to govern and protect every subject. As Calvin's case shows, this reciprocal obligation comprises the very foundation of the Crown's authority to make laws.
Opening the door to assisted suicide, without an absolute assurance that mistakes will never be made, would egregiously breach that obligation. No-one can give such assurance: it is certainly not provided by the bill currently before the House. It follows that every MP who agrees with the principle of reciprocal protection should vote to end the life of the End of Life Choice Bill.
If the Crown abdicates its responsibility to protect our lives, how can it insist that we comply with our duty of allegiance?
Grant Illingworth QC is a barrister-at-law based in Auckland. He is a litigation specialist with interests and expertise in, among other things, public law, the law relating to trusts and relationship property, and professional disciplinary proceedings. Grant takes part in #DefendNZ because he knows of the reality of coercion and the difficulty in detecting it. He is concerned that, should the End of Life Choice Bill pass, it would be impossible to know with 100% certainty that people are making a free choice in requesting euthanasia or assisted suicide. Grant speaks out to #DefendNZAbused in documentaries from #DefendNZ including ‘A life in chronic pain’ featuring the story of John Fox and ‘Terminal but not dead yet’ featuring the story of Vicki Walsh (below). He is also a member of Lawyers for Vulnerable New Zealanders (www.lvnz,org)
Watch John’s documentary in widescreen and read his complete story here.
Watch Vicki’s documentary in widescreen and read her complete story here.