Notes of my speech to the TPP – Let the People Decide – Binding Referendum Rally, coinciding with the release of the Select Committee report. (Photo: Sandra Grey)
If anyone’s been to hospital recently, for an operation, you’ll know the form they give you to sign. It’s the one asking your permission to do the operation.
It also tells you what the procedure is, and why the doctor is doing it – what benefits you can expect. It lists the risks, or possible complications which might arise. And it lets you know that you have the right to change your mind, because it’s your choice to decide what is being done to you.
The New Zealand health system hasn’t always had those forms. They didn’t have them in the sixties and seventies, at National Women’s Hospital in Auckland, when a doctor was conducting what became known as “an unfortunate experiment”. The doctor did not seek permission for his experimental cancer treatments. He did not even tell women that he was prescribing treatment considered unorthodox – or in some cases that he was prescribing no treatment at all, for women at risk of cancer.
It was the Cartwright Inquiry into this unfortunate experiment which enshrined a principle for healthcare in New Zealand – the principle of informed consent.
The doctor in charge at National Women’s was found guilty of disgraceful conduct, and struck off. But nurses were also criticised in the inquiry, for not speaking up.
So this is why we are speaking up now, about the TPPA. I’d like to thank Labour MP Grant Robertson for acknowledging the role of the medical – and nursing – professions, in leading the opposition to the TPPA. But actually, we feel we have no choice. We remember National Women’s. After the debacle there, defending the principle of informed consent is in our bones.
And there has been no attempt to gain the consent of New Zealanders, for this TPPA. Every public poll has found a majority of people opposed to it. In effect we are all being experimented on, without our consent.
We haven’t been informed, either. The deal has been done in secret. We have not been given any detail about the health risks that might come with the TPPA. The government’s 277-page National Interest Analysis glosses over health in just two pages – most of which is taken up denying there will be any effect on health at all.
But we know that access to affordable medicines will be reduced under the TPPA – especially for the revolutionary new drugs now in the pipeline, called biologics, which hold the promise of cures for cancers, and arthritis.
We know that the TPPA will limit our ability to tackle the health epidemics of the 21st century – such as alcohol-related harm, and non-communicable diseases like diabetes and heart disease, which are linked to obesity.
We know that the TPPA was negotiated in a way which breaches the Treaty of Waitangi, and will undermine Māori health efforts.
And we know that the TPPA will undermine the social determinants which sustain good health. It will lead to increased inequality, and this will impact on the health of New Zealanders.
We know all this, even though we aren’t patent lawyers, or trade experts, or economists. We’re nurses. And we know this without access to all the secret documents passed back and forth around the deal.
It’s because we know this much, that we’re absolutely clear about the need for the government to publish the secret papers, engage the relevant experts and commission a full health impact assessment – before ratifying this agreement. This is why NZNO supports the demand of this rally for an independent analysis of the TPP implications.
And we want the government to seek consent for this, and for all future trade and investment agreements – at the very least by letting Parliament vote on them. It is not acceptable to us that Cabinet has the authority to ratify international treaties for New Zealand, without even putting them to a vote.
Let the people decide!