Sir Michael Cullen’s poignant thoughts on assisted dying and mortality

Jack Tame
Source: 1News

Sir Michael Cullen hopes he will live long enough to see New Zealand’s End of Life Choice bill come into law.

The veteran Labour politician has end-stage lung cancer and campaigned in favour for the assisted dying bill in the lead up to last year’s referendum.

Alongside his wife, Anne, he told Q+A’s Jack Tame he hopes to survive to see the law in practice.

“If need be, I can ask one of my doctors for a nice little pill which I can keep by my side, and if it gets too much, instead of just pushing madly at the morphine button, I can kiss Anne, and take it.”

Sir Michael has published a new memoir, Saving Labour , in which he reflects on his career in politics.

He entered Parliament in 1981 when Robert Muldoon was Prime Minister. Forming a close relationship with Helen Clark, his official roles included Finance Minister, Attorney General, and Deputy Prime Minister.

“Even when some people were talking about me becoming leader, I wasn't actually keen. I never entered politics wanting to be leader. I knew what it would mean,” he said.

In a wide-ranging interview, Sir Michael reflected on his role in establishing the New Zealand Superannuation fund and Kiwisaver programme, which he considers among the most important achievements of his political career.

“Unfortunately, the Super Fund doesn’t rank as high as it should, because the previous National government didn’t put a penny into it. And that was a period when there would have been very high returns from investing in the superannuation fund. It would probably be ... my guess would be we’d have to have done very badly if we hadn’t got a $100 billion fund by now," he said.

“I’m concerned about it to the extent that we have the possibility that taxes will have to increase substantially in the future to pay for that combination of New Zealand Super and health, which are now the two biggest items in government spending.”

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Speaking at his home in Ōhope beach, Sir Michael was frank about his condition and his own mortality.

“I've never seen much point in being an agnostic. I think that's sort of ‘oh, come on, make up your mind’ territory, really. And I've increasingly found it difficult to believe in what people describe as the afterlife.”

Watch the full, hour-long interview with Sir Michael Cullen on TVNZ OnDemand.