Labour MP Maryan Street currently has a Private Member’s Bill in the Ballot entitled “End of Life Choice” which seeks to legalise euthanasia and assisted suicide in New Zealand. Although asked by her party to withdraw the Bill, which could serve as a distraction in the coming election year, she has not done so yet.
As the Bill is still in the ballot, and there is a possibility that at any time it could be drawn, it is worthwhile looking at the draft law to see what some of the potential pitfalls in the legislation are.
One of the tactics used by the pro-euthanasia advocates is to emphasize the safeguards that will be put in place. This is a diversionary tactic to take the emphasis away from the real issue, which is the sanctity of life itself. It is important to remember at all times that the End of Life Choice Bill is solely about legalizing the killing of another person, or assisting someone to commit suicide.
Some would argue that by saying it is wrong to kill another through euthanasia, one is imposing their view on others. However, we weep with tears of sadness over tragic murders and want the perpetrator found and given a just sentence; we wonder “why” someone takes their life and say “if only I had known… I could have helped… what a waste”.
Yet, here we are discussing a Bill which would make doctor’s commit murder. Doctor’s who pledge to “first do no harm”. What are we, as a society, asking of those who are supposed to care for us? What mixed message are we sending our youth when we allow some people to take their own lives? How much easier it will be for the young person struggling to think that the only solution to their problems is to take their own life.
The pro-euthanasia lobby have been “very careful” in drafting the End of Life Choice Bill to ensure there are many “safeguards” which will encourage every-day New Zealander’s to believe no abuses will occur. But experience shows that no amount of “safeguards” will ever stop the abuse of a law which fundamentally is about killing.
This draft law has many loopholes, many ways in which abuses can occur, many opportunities for involuntary euthanasia to creep in. The following are only a few of the implications of the proposed law:
The criteria allows for euthanasia and assisted suicide on demand
Most notably, a person can request euthanasia or assisted suicide if they have an “irreversible physical or mental medical condition” that in the person’s view is “unbearable”. This leaves the option of euthanasia or assisted suicide open to just about anyone. People who are depressed could easily fit into this category, as could those who are paralysed, and those who are intellectually impaired. “Unbearable” is a subjective term. Remember the Belgian twins who were suffering “unbearable pain” because they would not be able to see each other?
The written requests can open the door to involuntary euthanasia
The draft legislation requires that the requests for euthanasia or assisted suicide be in writing and signed by the applicant. However, someone else can write the request and an “X” is a sufficient mark to show consent. In the case where an End of Life Directive is in place, and it has not been signed, a medical practitioner can decide if it is in “accordance of the patient’s wishes”. All of these situations leave the door open for others to decide if a person is to live or die and under what circumstances.
Exposes vulnerable people to choose euthanasia over living
When euthanasia or assisted suicide are an option, people who think that they are a burden, feel obliged to choose this option. In the US state of Oregon the number of patients requesting assisted suicide who have stipulated that they do not want to be a burden on their family rose from 12% in 1998 to 42% in 2005 and 45% in 2007.
No requirement for palliative care to be trialled
There is no requirement in the draft legislation that someone who wishes to be euthanized or assisted in suicide should have a trial of palliative care. Professor Richmond (Geriatric Medicine) notes that “it is well recognized that when a person’s fears in the realms of the physical, psychological, social or spiritual domains are identified and assuaged in the hospice situation, their request for euthanasia is often not repeated”.
Reporting process will only tell some of the story
It is most likely that cases of terminal sedation* won’t be recorded as euthanasia. Doctors are not required to report complications (one of which is the failure of the person to die). Euthanasia or assisted suicide will not be recorded on the death certificate as the cause of death, instead the underlying condition will be stated, allowing doctors to cover up involuntary euthanasia.
Relationships are broken down
Family members or friends do no need to be informed of a person’s wish for euthanasia or assisted suicide. It can happen without their knowledge. They cannot overturn a person’s wish to be euthanized. This removes the important human need for relationship and support.
Immunity from civil and criminal liability offered to those involved in the process
Anyone involved in any part of the process laid out in the Bill and who fails through act or omission, in “good faith” is immune from any civil or criminal liability. This applies to professionals and lay people.
No real conscientious objection
Although it is stated that one can object to assisting, the objector is still obliged to participate by referring the person to another who will carry out their wishes.
End of Life Choice Review Body will be a sham
The End of Life Choice Review Body will be a sham, just like the Abortion Supervisory Committee, they will be protecting the interests of those who do the killing.
The legislation blurs the lines between medical treatment and euthanasia/assisted suicide
The language of the legislation turns euthanasia and assisted suicide into normal medical practice. It makes doctors, whose role should be to heal, into killers. Medical care is redefined so that euthanasia and assisted suicide become “treatments”. Evidence suggests that ordinary means such as food and water are taken away from those who are not in the advance stages of passing on and newborn babies who have Spina bifida are left to die. How much easier these practices will be to carry out with legalized euthanasia and assisted suicide?
The draft legislation, presented as the End of Life Choice Bill is dangerous, and has the potential, if passed, to destroy New Zealand society.
*terminal sedation is the practice whereby a patient is sedated and food and fluid is withdrawn with the intention of ending the person’s life. It does not refer to when someone is sedated to alleviate severe pain for a time and they are adequately hydrated, or where a person is in the final stages of life.