In their recent submission on the End of Life Choice Bill, New Zealand’s Catholic bishops have highlighted the delight shown in the Prime Minister’s baby news and have called for similar delight in and respect towards vulnerable lives.

“As the nation delights in Prime Minister Jacinda and Clarke’s news of a baby, we urge that the nation move forward, showing the same delight and respect for our elders and all other vulnerable lives too,” the bishops stated near the end of their submission on the Bill, which is being considered by Parliament’s Justice Select Committee.

All in all, the bishops described the Bill, put forward by ACT MP David Seymour, as “not in the best interests of the people of Aotearoa”. Rather, it is “a giant step backwards”. The bishops started their submission by pointing to the Church’s credentials to speak on this subject.

“The Catholic Church’s long involvement in the hospice movement and pastoral care of the dying and their families provides us with strong credentials to speak in societal debates about dying and death.

“Our history of supporting the vulnerable and the elders stretches back to the signing of the Tiriti o Waitangi where Bishop Pompallier was confidante to many Māori rangatira.

“Today too, many of our people work in rest homes, hospices and hospitals, accompanying the dying and their families and whanau daily.”

The bishops stated that the Bill offers an impoverished view of health care, with no requirements for doctors to have any expertise or experience in palliative care or mental health or experience or expertise in the patient’s condition. Palliative care and hospice services are of a high standard in New Zealand and they can be expanded to give patients the choice of quality end of life care.

“The Bill takes a dim or even cynical view of the medical profession by seeing doctors as men and women who complete set tasks in a prescribed or identical manner for each situation.

“It seems that the Bill, in fact, seeks to bypass the professional input and analysis of doctors. It restricts the conscience rights of medical practitioners that protect robust professional judgement and prevent doctors from duress.”

They also pointed out that in determining eligibility for assisted suicide, the Bill makes no room for an assessment of a patient’s inherent vulnerability or any rigorous assessment of whether or not the patient is being subjected to pressure.

“International experience repeatedly confirms that, despite claims to the contrary, legalisation leads to normalisation and the expansion of eligibility, either legislatively or in practice.”

The bishops argued that the Bill provides a pathway to early death which relies on patients making subjective self-assessments of their suffering which arises from physical, mental disability, chronic illness (including mental illness) or terminal illness.

They stated that the experience in countries like Belgium have shown an ongoing expansion of parameters surrounding eligibility.

“The first Labour Government of this nation saw the need for ‘care from the cradle to the grave’.

“In a contemporary manner, may compassion, not fear and threat, continue to stand at the heart of our nation.”

The final report from the select committee is due on September 27. To see the full text of the bishops’ submission visit http://bit.ly/2p85iMD

• The UK secular think tank Living and Dying Well submitted a memorandum of evidence to the Justice Select Committee opposing the Bill. The memorandum argued that the Bill does not pass two key tests it should to become law.

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