Religious leaders from a number of New Zealand’s faith traditions have written a joint letter to Members of Parliament expressing their grave concerns about passing the End of Life Choice Bill.

The bill, which passed its third and final reading on November 13, “gives people with a terminal illness the option of requesting assisted dying”, according to its description on Parliament’s website. A referendum will be put to the public at the next elections.

The letter is signed by leaders of the Catholic, Baptist, Presbyterian, Anglican and Lutheran churches, the Federation of Islamic Associations and the Salvation Army.

“We speak out of our extensive experience of actively caring for the dying and their whanau,” the leaders stated, adding they are expressing their ethical, philosophical and practical concerns, not religious arguments.

They listed seven concerns about the final form of the bill as it went into its third reading.

These include the risk that people will choose a premature death because they lack proper care choices. The letter refers to Canadian and American evidence which shows that euthanasia/ assisted suicide laws have led to numerous patients choosing assisted deaths because of unmet service
needs. High-quality palliative care for the terminally ill is not yet available equitably throughout New Zealand, they wrote.

“Until it is, there is a strong likelihood that New Zealanders will also choose assisted death because of a lack of other meaningful choices. In such a context, there is the real risk that people in lower socio-economic groups will find themselves being channelled unnecessarily and unjustly towards a premature death.”

The religious leaders also expressed their fears that the introduction of an assisted death law might have an adverse effect on this nation’s already tragic rates of suicide, noting that there is some overseas evidence
that it may contribute to an increase in non-assisted
suicides.

And they identified the failure of Parliament to include an amendment to the bill that would allow for institutions to
exercise a right of conscience not to participate.

The letter describes this failure as “the unethical imposition of assisted death on those carers and healthcare providers for whom the provision of assisted dying would directly contradict their medical, ethical, philosophical, spiritual and/or historical traditions”.

The letter said this is not the right time for New Zealand to be contemplating a euthanasia law: “Only when effective palliative care is a real choice for all New Zealanders will
we, as a country, be in a position to have a proper discussion about offering assisted dying as an additional
end-of-life option.”

Meanwhile, more resources need directing to enhancing palliative care nationally and addressing rising rates of depression and social isolation of our elders, it adds.

Should the bill pass its third reading in its current form, its coming into force would be subject to a referendum.

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