Is there tikanga around euthanasia?

Debate has emerged as to whether euthanasia has a place in te ao Māori, with some saying it doesn‘t sit with the Māori worldview of death, and others saying whānau should have the choice.

A Taranaki urupā. Photo: RNZ / Robin Martin

The End of Life Choice Bill, which would allow people to end their lives if they have six months or less before they die, last week, with the public set to vote at a referendum next year.

Maata Wharehoka, from Parihaka, has been reviving traditional methods of death and burial, with her whānau-run business, Kahu Whakatere Tūpāpaku.

She said that based on the knowledge of her whānau, there was a form of euthanasia in pre-colonial Māori society, which involved speeding up death for people who had become wholly dependent on others for their needs.

“They didn‘t have food and water, and they were put outside and regardless of the weather, that‘s where they were placed, now, what I do know, if they didn‘t die immediately they were then put out into wharemate, and the wharemate was built for them to die in.”

She supports legalisation of euthanasia because it would help the wairua of the person dying, leave the world faster with less pain and suffering.

“I believe that we should never have to endure the pain that some people have to go through, that we should be able to choose a time to pass over.”

Ngāti Porou anglican priest, Reverend Chris Huriwai, who opposed the bill, said euthanasia went against the Māori worldview on death.

“When I hear conversations and kōrero around euthanasia, straight away my mind flicks to how we as Māori frame our tangihanga rituals, how we understand death, and fundamentally this idea of death as something that is unwanted, something that is an aitua or an accident or something unfortunate, and I wonder how that impacts on our tikanga when we start to express more agency in that space.

“So if a whānau or a person elects for that to take place, then how do we reconcile that with our acceptable practice and tikanga around tangihanga as it stands now.”

The End of Life Choice Bill passed its third in Parliament last week and puts the issue to a referendum next year. Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

He said that from what he had learned from the tohunga Papa Amster Reedy, euthanasia was foreign to the tikanga of Tairāwhiti, but he said this might not necessarily be the case for Māori across the country.

“I think it‘s important we don‘t just call it all tikanga Māori, because tikanga Māori doesn‘t exist.”

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“We‘re diverse, we‘re fluid, we‘re not a homogenous group of people, so those conversations need to happen on levels smaller than tribal levels, so hapū conversations need to happen and whānau conversations need to happen around what our accepted tikanga is.”

Dame Iritana Tāwhiwhirangi agreed there was no one tikanga, and she supported the right for whānau to make a decision for themselves.

“Our people, from what I remember, made the decision together. They didn‘t rely on outside determinations for them and together that was their tikanga, that‘s what they focused on, they made their decisions and I support that.”

New Zealand Nurses Organisation kaiwhakahaere Kerri Nuku said Māori nurses were polarised on the issue, but agree that it should be up to whānau Māori.

Māori nurses were looking to set up hui at different marae after Christmas, where Māori could discuss what legalisation of euthanasia would mean for them and their whānau, similar to consultation that occured around changes to the Coronial Act.

Māori MPs divided on whether euthanasia fits within te ao Māori

Whangarei MP Shane Reti said during the third reading debate that he opposed the bill, both as as a doctor and a Māori.

Tāmaki Makaurau MP Peeni Henare supported the bill Photo: RNZ / Richard Tindiller

He singled out many of the Māori Labour MPs who supported the bill, asking them what their “Māori heart‘ was saying.

Tāmaki Makaurau MP Peeni Henare responded by saying that historically, Māori had ways of speeding up the process of death if a disease or sickness was incurable.

He said that to him, tikanga is mana motuhake – Māori being to make the decision which is right for them.

MP for Te Tai Hauāuru Adrian Rurawhe said that the overwhelming majority of people in his electorate told him at eight public hui they did not want this bill.

“We talk about kaupapa Māori, terms that just roll of our tongue – manaakitanga, rangatiratanga, aroha – it even frames our international identity but will it frame what we want for our families in this bill, I say it will not, because it is fundamentally opposed to those kaupapa.”

List MP Willie Jackson told Parliament that three high-profile Māori leaders, he had spoken with said “they were tired of hearing this was a violation of our culture”.

“All were unanimous that in their view tikanga evolves, tikanga changes and there is no one tikanga,” he said.

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