The End of Life Choice Act, 2019 is euthanasia and assisted suicide legislation passed by Parliament and given Royal Assent. The Act does not come into force unless the people vote in its favour at the 2020 General Election.
Electors will be asked to respond yes or no to the question “Do you support the End of Life Choice Act 2019 coming into force?”
If the majority of voters agree to the Act coming into force, it will do so 12 months after the date the official results are declared.
Purpose of the End of Life Choice Act
As stated in the Act, the purpose of the End of Life Choice Act, is
To give persons who have a terminal illness and who meet certain criteria the option of lawfully requesting medical assistance to end their lives.
Criteria for eligibility for euthanasia or assisted suicide
Section 5 of the Act explains who is eligible for euthanasia or assisted suicide (referred to as “assisted dying” throughout the text). The following is Clause 5 of the Act.
5. Meaning of person who is eligible for assisted dying or eligible person
(1) In this Act, person who is eligible for assisted dying or eligible person means a person who—
(a) is aged 18 years or over; and
(i) a person who has New Zealand citizenship as provided in the Citizenship Act 1977; or
(ii) a permanent resident as defined in section 4 of the Immigration Act 2009; and
(c) suffers from a terminal illness that is likely to end the person’s life within 6 months; and
(d) is in an advanced state of irreversible decline in physical capability; and
(e) experiences unbearable suffering that cannot be relieved in a manner that the person considers tolerable; and
(f) is competent to make an informed decision about assisted dying.
(2) A person is not a person who is eligible for assisted dying or an eligible person by reason only that the person—
(a) is suffering from any form of mental disorder or mental illness; or
(b) has a disability of any kind; or
(c) is of advanced age.
Note that the End of Life Choice Act 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 word about “safeguards”
Those who advocate for euthanasia and assisted suicide are quick 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 Act is solely about legalising the killing of another person, or assisting someone to commit suicide.
So-called safeguards lure citizens into a false sense of security that no abuses will occur. However, overseas 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 Act 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
The language used in the criteria to obtain euthanasia or assisted suicide is subjective and can be interpreted widely. For example:
5-1 (c) suffers from a terminal illness that is likely to end the person’s 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 Act, therefore has the potential to be interpreted loosely.
5-1 (d) is in an advanced state of irreversible decline in physical capability
Who determines when decline in physical capability has advanced enough to fulfill this criteria?
5-1 (e) experiences unbearable suffering that cannot be relieved in a manner that the person 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 Act. 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, hiding their despair, could easily request euthanasia or assisted suicide under this clause.
Freedom of Conscience is compromised
Clause 8 states that “a health practitioner is not under any obligation to assist any person” seeking euthanasia or assisted suicide. However, clause 9 requires the attending medical practitioner to inform the patient of their right to contact the 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. Through this group the patient will be able to obtain the name and contact details of a replacement medical practitioner who will potentially begin the process. For the physician who does not wish to participate in any way, this requirement asks them to do so anyway.
A signature confirming the request can be obtained from someone other than the patient
In clause 12, the procedure for confirming the request is outlined. Clause 12 (4) notes that a person other than the patient can sign the request confirmation under certain conditions, on the patients behalf.
While the patient must be present when the form is signed, there is no requirement that they must be conscious, nor free from coercion. It would not be unreasonable to conclude that there will be cases where the signature is falsely obtained and voluntary requests become involuntary.
Key events in the progression of the End of Life Choice Act
June 8, 2017:
David Seymour submits the End of Life Choice Bill to the Ballot.
December 13, 2017:
First Reading in Parliament. It passed 76 in favour and 44 opposed.
March 6, 2018:
Closing date for submissions to the Justice Select Committee on the End of Life Choice Bill.
April 9, 2019:
The Justice Select Committee reported to Parliament.
June 26, 2019:
Second Reading in Parliament. It passed 70 in favour and 50 opposed.
July to November 2019:
The End of Life Choice Bill is in Committee of the Whole House. Amendments in the form of Supplementary Order Papers (SOPs) are debated and voted on.
November 13 2019:
Third Reading in Parliament. It passed 69 in favour and 51 opposed.
November 16 2019:
Royal Assent granted.
The End of Life Choice Act, 2019 is awaiting a public referendum which is to take place at the General Election on October 17 2020. If it passes, the Act will come into force 12 months after the date the results of the referendum are made public.
Who voted against the End of Life Choice Act
Family Life International NZ are grateful to these MPs who were not in favour of the End of Life Choice Act and voted accordingly.
Kanwaljit Singh Bakshi, Maggie Barry, Andrew Bayly, David Bennett, Dan Bidois, Simon Bridges, Simeon Brown, Gerry Brownlee, David Carter, Jacqui Dean, Sarah Dowie, Paulo Garcia, Paul Goldsmith, Nathan Guy, Jo Hayes, Harete Hipango, Denise Lee, Melissa Lee, Agnes Loheni, Tim Macindoe, Todd McClay, Ian McKelvie, Todd Muller, Alfred Ngaro, Simon O’Connor, Parmjeet Parmar, Chris Penk, Maureen Pugh, Shane Reti, Alastair Scott, Nick Smith, Anne Tolley, Louise Upston, Nicky Wagner, Hamish Walker, Michael Woodhouse, Jonathan Young, Lawrence Yule
David Clark, Anahila Kanongata’a-Suisuiki, Damien O’Connor, Adrian Rurawhe, Deborah Russell, Jenny Salesa, Aupito Tofe Sua William Sio, Jamie Strange, Rino Tirikatene, Phil Twyford, Meka Whaitiri, Michael Wood, Poto Williams