Since 1995, there have been several attempts through private members bills to legalise euthanasia and/or assisted suicide in New Zealand. The End of Life Choice Bill sponsored by David Seymour, the sole Minister of Parliament for the Act Party, is the first to be read in the House since 2003.
Purpose of the End of Life Choice Bill
The purpose of the End of Life Choice Bill, as explained in the General Policy Statement, is to give
people with a terminal illness or a grievous and irremediable medical condition the option of requesting assisted dying.
The Bill is heavily weighted with emotive language, using words such as compassion, peace, dignity and choice.
Criteria for eligibility
Section 4 of the Bill explains who is eligible for euthanasia or assisted suicide (which is termed “assisted dying” throughout the text). The following is Clause 4 of the Bill.
4. Meaning of person who is eligible for assisted dying
In this Act, person who is eligible for assisted dying means a person who-
- is aged 18 years or over; and
- a person who has New Zealand citizenship as provided in the Citizenship Act 1977; or
- a permanent resident as defined in section 4 of the Immigration Act 2009; and
- suffers from-
- a terminal illness that is likely to end his or her life within 6 months; or
- a grievous and irremediable medical condition; and
- is in an advanced state of irreversible decline in capability; and
- experiences unbearable suffering that cannot be relieved in a manner that he or she considers tolerable; and
- has the ability to understand-
- the nature of assisted dying; and
- the consequences for him or her of assisted dying.
Note that the Bill allows for the patient to choose between euthanasia (where the doctor administers the drug) and assisted suicide (where the doctor prescribes the drug and the person administers it to themselves). A person does not have to be terminally ill in order to make a request.
One of the tactics used by pro-euthanasia advocates is to emphasize the apparent safeguards that will be put in place to stop abuses occurring. 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 legalising the killing of another person, or assisting someone to commit suicide.
The pro-euthanasia/assisted suicide lobby were very careful in drafting the End of Life Choice Billensuring there are many so-called safeguards within it, luring people into a false sense of security that no abuses will occur.
Experience shows that no amount of so-called safeguards will ever stop the abuse of a law which fundamentally is about killing.
Some concerning issues with the End of Life Choice Bill
Over and above the fundamental problem, which is that the Bill is about legalising the killing of another human being or assisting someone to commit suicide, the following points are worth seriously considering.
The age limit of 18 years. According to the Attorney General, Hon Christopher Finlayson, the age limit is discriminatory and contravenes the Bill of Rights Act. Therefore, the age limit could be challenged paving the way for children to access euthanasia and assisted suicide.
Subjective terminology allows for assisted suicide and euthanasia on demand. For example:
4 (c) (i) a terminal illness that is likely to end his or her life within 6 months
The determination of how long someone will live is only an estimation. Many people live well beyond their prognosis. Some are completely healed, others go into remission for quite some time. The term “likely” is not defined in the Bill and so can therefore be abused by those entrenched in the practice and under the guise of compassion to determine that the patient fits into this category.
4 (c) (ii) a grievous and irremediable medical condition
Who determines which medical conditions apply? The term “medical condition” is not defined in the Bill. Does the term refer to physical conditions or psychological conditions as well? Who makes the decision that the medical condition is so grievous as to qualify? How is irremediable determined and by whom?
4 (d) in an advanced state of irreversible decline in capability
Once again who determines this? Who determines the right level of capability?
4 (e) experiences unbearable suffering that cannot be relieved in a manner that he or she considers tolerable
This particular clause is the most insidious and is determined only by the person requesting euthanasia/assisted suicide. It is incredibly subjective. Once again, the terms are not defined in the Bill. What determines “unbearable” for one person may be quite tolerable for another. Is the “unbearable suffering” of a physical nature or psychological, spiritual, social or a mix of these? A person determined to end their life will not be satisfied with any assistance given therefore no attempts to relieve the “unbearable suffering” will be considered tolerable. Most concerning, is that a depressed individual could easily request euthanasia or assisted suicide under this clause.
Conscientious objection is compromised. While Clause 6 states that no person is required to do anything that they object to, in clause 7 the attending medical practitioner is required to refer the patient to a group of medical practitioners established by the Ministry of Health. The Group will be known as the Support and Consultation for End of Life in NZ (SCENZ) Group. The person will be referred to a medical practitioner who will begin the process. For the physician who does not wish to participate, this requirement is like leading a lamb to the slaughter.
A signature confirming the request can be obtained from someone other than the patient. In clause 9 the procedure for confirming the request is outlined. Clause 9 (4) notes that a person other than the patient can sign the request confirmation under certain conditions, on the patients behalf. It would not be unreasonable to conclude that there will be cases where the signature is falsely obtained and voluntary requests become involuntary. Given that physicians have immunity from criminal liability, an over zealous physician coupled with family members who can “no longer bear to see their loved one suffer” could easily abuse this confirmation clause.
Physicians have immunity from civil and criminal liability. Clause 26 states that “a person is immune from liability in civil or criminal proceedings for acts or omissions in good faith and without negligence in providing or intending to provide assisted dying.” This clause allows doctors to literally get away with murder.
The current status of the End of Life Choice Bill
The End of Life Choice bill is currently awaiting its second reading and vote in Parliament.
April 9, 2019:
The Justice Select Committee reported to Parliament.
March 6, 2018:
Closing date for submissions to the Justice Select Committee on the End of Life Choice Bill.
December 13, 2017:
First Reading in Parliament. It passed 76 in favour and 44 opposed.
June 8, 2017:
David Seymour submits the End of Life Choice Bill to the Ballot.