A submission by the Catholic bioethics centre, The Nathaniel Centre, to a parliamentary select committee on the End of Life Choice Bill has warned that legalising euthanasia or assisted suicide in a society where elder abuse is on the rise amounts to “a form of institutionalised abuse of our elders”.

A summary of the submission to the Justice Select Committee was published in issue 54 of The Nathaniel Report in April, 2018.

The 41-paragraph summary noted a rise in abuse of elders in our society, alongside documented evidence of greater social isolation and loneliness amongst people aged over 65.

“Those working in the aged care sector note that many disabled and elderly people express the view that they have become or fear that they will become, an unwelcome burden on family and society.

“Legalising euthanasia or assisted suicide will only exacerbate this situation.” Shortcomings in overseas jurisdictions such as the Netherlands, Belgium, Washington and Oregon states in the US, including issues with documented consent, mental health, expansion of criteria, and inadequate safeguards were also noted.

Elsewhere, the summary noted that “maintaining the absolute prohibition of euthanasia and/or assisted suicide is demanded at this time because it is not possible to adequately protect the lives of those who are most vulnerable
in the current ageist and ableist societal context”.

The summary stated “there is no convincing case to be made for a safe euthanasia/assisted suicide regime in New Zealand at this point in time”.

“The current law may not be perfect, but it provides a clear bright line,” the summary noted. “Moving the bright line of prohibition would create far more problems than it would ever solve. Apart from the intractable problems of consent and coercion, moving that bright line to some new position would merely create new ‘hard cases’ on the boundary.”

Quoting the “precautionary principle”, well known in bioethics, the summary stated that “it is incumbent on proponents of change to provide indisputable evidence that any regulatory system would be sufficiently safe”.

The summary also discussed problems with the language used in the bill, the need for equitable access to palliative care, the impact of context on choice and autonomy and the involvement of the medical profession.

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