Sir Michael Cullen's cancer responding well to chemo as he backs assisted dying bill

Former Deputy Prime Minister Sir Michael Cullen says his cancer is responding well to chemotherapy treatment.

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The former deputy Prime Minister spoke prior to the End of Life Choice referendum. Source: Q+A

In his first TV appearance speaking about his diagnosis, the 75-year-old told TVNZ1’s Q+A while his cancer was incurable and inoperable, “the outlook looks better for some time to come”. 

“My oncologist can’t tell me how long I’ve got left. He will in the late stages, it will then be very clear,” Cullen said.

He said it was “highly unlikely” he’d still be alive on July 1 next year when the act, if it comes into force, would commence. 

Cullen first announced he was publicly backing the proposed End of Life Choice Act late last month. If more than half of voters in the general election choose “yes”, it will become law. 

Hear both sides of the argument as termally ill New Zealanders set out their view on assisted dying on TVNZ1's Q+A.

"There's nothing in this bill that makes euthanasia compulsory. It's an option for the person choosing to die because their life no longer has meaning,” Cullen said. 

“No doctor can be forced to make that choice to assist. If there are signs of pressure from the family coming on the dying person, the doctor must cease the process around assisting the dying process.

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Sir Michael Cullen publicly backs End of Life Choice bill

“So, there are all kinds of backstops in this piece of legislation.”

He said part of what drove him to support the proposed law was seeing the latter stages of his mother’s life.

“Mum died aged 98 and it was quite clear that she wished she’d died some years earlier.”

He said the legislation “doesn't really go as far as we'd like ... I think it could have gone further”.

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There were “so many restrictions” to the law, such as the six-month timeframe the person seeking an assisted death would need to be predicted to die in, Cullen said.

In March, Cullen first announced he was battling Stage 4 small cell lung cancer, with multiple secondary cancers in his liver.