Oppose ACT Leader David Seymour's push for introduction of Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide in New Zealand
The conversation around euthanasia and assisted suicide is heating up again in New Zealand after the End of Life Choice Bill was plucked at random from the members' ballot in early June, almost two years after it was first included.
The Bill was introduced by Act Party leader David Seymour and is based on an earlier piece of legislation drafted by former Labour MP Maryan Street. It proposes to allow New Zealand adults who have a terminal illness to end their life within six months, or those who have a grievous and irremediable medical condition, the choice to ask a doctor to assist them to end their life at a time of their choosing. It would require two medical practitioners to be satisfied a person meets the required criteria. The second being an independent doctor from the patient and initial doctor.
It also proposes that the Director-General of Health would establish a group of medical practitioners who would maintain a register of health professionals willing to participate in assisted dying.
When the Bill was drawn from the ballot this month, Mr Seymour expressed confidence that his bill would pass the first reading in a conscience vote. He needs 61 votes for a majority at the first reading. It is likely that The End of Life Choice Bill will be debated on the next members' day, either immediately before or after the federal election in September.
Mr Seymour’s Bill, however, comes at a time when a parliamentary inquiry into voluntary euthanasia is still under examination. It is premature to make proposals for legislative changes when the committee has not yet finished deliberating.
The Parliamentary inquiry was prompted by a petition following the death of Wellington lawyer Lecretia Seales, who unsuccessfully sought a High Court ruling that would have allowed her doctor to assist her in ending her own life without criminal prosecution. After extensive media coverage, the Health Select Committee received more than 21,000 unique written submissions to the inquiry which is a record on any issue. A full analysis of these submissions, confirmed by an independent research company, found that 77% of submissions (16,411) were opposed to ‘assisted dying’ legislation while only 19.5% (4,142 submissions) are in favour. The Committee also heard hundreds of oral submissions, of which the vast majority were supportive of the current law. New Zealanders have clearly expressed that they do not want euthanasia and assisted suicide to be legalised.
Renée Joubert, executive officer of Euthanasia-Free NZ a not for profit organisation believes legalisation of voluntary euthanasia and assisted suicide would not be in the best interest of New Zealand society, stated that: “Euthanasia-Free NZ cares about the physical and psychological suffering that some people experience when living with an incurable condition, but we are deeply concerned about the unintended consequences and wider implications of ‘assisted dying’ legislation." "These concerns include the effect such a law change might have on the already-concerning suicide rate.”
In New Zealand, there is already legislation which prohibits the aiding and abetting of suicide. The introduction of euthanasia and assisted suicide, however, would significantly change this protection.
Despite proposals for this legislation that there will be ‘safeguards,’ the introduction of legalised assisted suicide and euthanasia will lead to the killing of people whom the law never intended to die. In 2002, voluntary euthanasia was legalised in the Netherlands for individuals with a terminal illness and intolerable suffering. This legislation then progressed to include individuals with no physical illness at all, but with mental health problems such as depression. In 2005, the Groningen Protocol was legalised which allowed for the killing of disabled newborn babies. And since 2009, individuals over 70 years of age who do not have any illness, but are simply ‘tired of life,’ can avail of assisted suicide. Slowly, over time, cultural acceptance about what is a tolerable life, what should be endured and who ought to have the right to continue to live changes.
We should not be so naïve that the same process will not occur in regard to any proposed parameters or limitations on the law in New Zealand.
Professor Rob George, a Consultant Physician in Palliative Care in the United Kingdom, suggests that interfering in the dying process through assisted suicide “completely reclassifies the role of medicine.” Assisting someone to commit suicide “changes society fundamentally” it involves reclassifying the intentional ending of a person’s life, at their request, as “a societal mandated good”.
The introduction of assisted suicide and euthanasia could also create a scenario where vulnerable individuals such as the elderly or those living with a disability, feel coerced into ending their lives too soon. For example, some people may feel that they are a burden on their children who have to provide them care or financial support. Others may feel that they are a burden on the State, using up precious medical resources. To this end, the existing laws in New Zealand currently act to protect our most vulnerable citizens.
It is fundamental that we provide real alternatives for those who are terminally ill or facing intolerable suffering. We need to be investing more for example in our health care services such as mobile palliative care teams so that adequate services can be provided in the home, to allow those who wish to die at home, to do so.
Palliative care services need to commence earlier on the patient's care journey so that patients and their families can be actively involved in their treatment plans. This will ensure that patient’s values, goals and preferences are reflected in their care plans. Such services should also aim to address any concerns or fears that the patient may have. Being more involved in the care plan, better equipped with knowledge of what is happening, and having wishes respected, such as discontinuation of medical treatment when medical treatment is futile, can bring a greater sense of control and dignity in death for the patient.
Please join us now by signing this petition as we send it to the government party leaders expressing your concerns about the introduction of euthanasia and assisted suicide in New Zealand. It is important to let your political representatives know that you oppose this legislation and that you have grave concerns that there are no safeguards that can be put in place to ensure the practice of assisted killing can be contained to what the legislation is originally intended for.
Sign this petition now!
Vote down the End of Life Choice Bill