In response to questions put by NZ Catholic, the following article was received from The Nathaniel Centre — The New Zealand Catholic Bioethics Centre.
On June 26, the End of Life Choice Bill passed its second reading in Parliament by a margin of 20 votes (70 to 50). This
represents a significant gain by those campaigning against “assisted death” — the margin at the first reading was 32
votes (76 – 44).
It was clear from listening to the speeches on the night, and from discussions with various MPs, that a majority of MPs would not support the bill in its current form, specifically because of its broad scope based on vague criteria that
would allow access for people with “a grievous and irremediable medical condition” who were “in an advanced state of decline in capability” and who were experiencing “unbearable suffering that cannot be relieved in a manner that he or she considers tolerable”.
However, a significant number of MPs have expressed the view that they were disappointed that the Justice Select Committee, which concluded that the bill “is not workable in its current state”, did not attempt to incorporate some changes to the draft legislation. Consistent with that view, and without yet having a definite view about how they will vote at the third reading, these MPs have voted “yes” at second reading to allow the whole of Parliament to consider whether the bill could be made safer. Thus, it is far from certain that the bill will ultimately pass, something that has been publicly acknowledged by the bill’s sponsor, David
Seymour, MP. The process now is that the bill will be discussed by the Committee of the Whole House which means that the bill will be read and debated, clause by clause. This is likely to take some months, firstly because Parliament is having a three-week recess (after the last week in June) and, secondly, because members’ bills are only debated on members’ days, which occur every second Wednesday of sitting weeks. The next member’s day will
be on July 31.
New Zealand First, which makes up part of the Labour-led coalition Government, have stated that they wish the final decision to be subject to a binding public referendum and will introduce a supplementary order paper to that effect in the next stage of the debate.
According to Dr John Kleinsman, director of the New Zealand Catholic Bioethics Centre, some of the unresolved problems with the End of Life Choice Bill are: problems with detecting coercion; safeguarding vulnerable people, especially the elderly and disabled, from coercion; the negative impact on suicide prevention programmes; inevitable broadening of scope as has happened overseas; difficulties detecting depression and other mental health issues that impact on free choice; freedom of conscience for the medical profession and cultural implications for Māori and Pacifica,
whose bad health statistics make it irresponsible to create a state-sanctioned avenue to death in the current context of
health care rationing.
Regarding concerns about the impact of the EOLC Bill on suicide prevention programmes, numerous submitters to the Justice Select Committee highlighted that the experience of health practitioners in New Zealand is that people with mental illnesses, especially young people, are already using the justifications of euthanasia advocates to inform their own rationale for wanting to end their lives.Youth suicide is a major crisis in New Zealand, with youth rates, especially those of young indigenous men, being some of the highest in the world. There is fledgling evidence from overseas that highlights a correlation between legalising “assisted death” and rising rates of suicide in those jurisdictions where some form of “assisted death” exists. The evidence that legalising euthanasia/assisted suicide will not further exacerbate New Zealand rates of (non-assisted) suicide simply does not exist. Until the evidence shows otherwise, it is quite simply too dangerous to bring in euthanasia and/or assisted suicide. Several MPs opposing the passage of the bill at second reading highlighted the conflicting message that it would send people about suicide prevention.
Responding to criticism of the bill in its current state, David Seymour has, for some time, indicated he is willing to narrow the eligibility criteria so that it is limited to people with terminal illness only, a move designed to ensure that
disabled people and those with mental illness will be excluded. However, numerous commentators have highlighted this would fail to adequately protect disabled people — for many reasons. As the Care Alliance NZ stated in a recent press release: “Disabled people are at risk in the bill and they cannot simply be written out of it. Many disabled people live constantly in the shadow of terminal conditions. The real-life experience of disabled people shows that many with serious and obvious disabilities tend to be thought of by medical practitioners as having reached a final stage prematurely.”
Dr Kleinsman remains particularly concerned over the inability of doctors, who under Seymour’s bill would be the
gatekeepers of euthanasia, to effectively detect coercion.
“Euthanasia devalues our elders and will increase the risk of abuse amongst some of the most vulnerable New Zealanders
at a time when elder abuse is a growing problem. It is well known from overseas research that people choose assisted death above all for social and existential reasons, that include loss of autonomy, loss of quality of life and fear of being a burden. It is not primarily about physical pain. Legalising euthanasia will lead to a situation where people who are elderly or disabled will find themselves having to justify their continued existence. It will contribute to people, who already see themselves as a burden, feeling obligated ‘to do the right thing’. The choice to die will all too easily become a duty to die. No legislation can protect against this.”
People who are concerned about the progress of the bill should contact their local MP, preferably in person, but otherwise by email or letter, to voice their opposition and respectfully encourage them to vote “no”. If their MP has voted “no” to date, they should email their MP to thank them for their stance.