Sir Bill English with Dr Leonie Herx in Auckland. Source: Indian Newslink
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02 April, 2019
“New Zealanders are currently debating whether the ‘End of Life Choice Bill’ should be implemented, legalising euthanasia. Experience in Canada and other countries has shown that Palliative Medicine is more effective. Palliative care seeks to identify and alleviate suffering across the trajectory of a life-threatening illness, including care at the end of life, and supports living well while dying,” she told Indian Newslink.
Dr Herx is in New Zealand to participate in a series of meetings and debates, bringing to the people her expertise and the experience of Canada on this issue.
The New Zealand Parliament is currently considering the ‘End of Life Choice Bill’ of ACT Party Leader David Seymour. Having passed its First Reading and the public consultation stage, public opinion will be reported by the Justice Select Committee of Parliament on Tuesday, April 9, 2019.
This Bill gives people with a terminal illness or a grievous and irremediable medical condition the option of requesting assisted dying.
It allows people who so choose, and are eligible under this Bill, to end their lives in peace and dignity, surrounded by loved ones.
The Bill defines those eligible for assisted dying, details a comprehensive set of provisions to ensure this is a free choice, made without coercion, and outlines a stringent series of steps to ensure the person is mentally capable of understanding the nature and consequences of assisted dying.
The New Zealand Parliament has debated earlier similar legislative proposals.
In 1995, the ‘Death with Dignity Bill’ of Michael Lewis was defeated 61/29 at First Reading.
It was defeated again in 2003 (60/58) when Peter Brown moved the House with his version.
Since then, evidence and developments have established that there are serious problems with the current state of the law in New Zealand that will be ongoing without a legislative solution.
In 2016, the Canadian Parliament passed ‘Bill C-14,’ amending the country’s Criminal Code and legalised physician-administered euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide. The legislation excludes minors, people with mental illness, long-term disability and any curable condition. It also excludes foreigners and those not covered by Canadian insurance.
Dr Herx said that there have been 8,000 cases of medially-assisted deaths since 2016, with 4,200 such deaths recorded in 2018, up from 2,700 in 2017.
“There is no proper monitoring of euthanasia in Canada. We have no idea where this will go. Safeguards do not work. Palliative care also affirms life and regards dying as a normal process and intends neither to hasten or postpone death,” she said.
A strong advocate of Palliative Medicine, Dr Herx said that Palliative Care improves the quality of life of patients and their families.
Palliative care seeks to identify and alleviate suffering across the trajectory of a life-threatening illness, including care at the end of life, and supports living well while dying. To those ends, palliative care must address all aspects of personhood and provide holistic person-centred care through an integrated interprofessional team approach, she said.
Former Prime Minister Sir Bill English, also a strong opponent, said that the End of Life Choice Bill, will place a “very large number of New Zealanders at serious risk”.
“Young people, elders, those with disability, those with language difficulties and people with low levels of confidence will also be at risk. In Canada, 98.5% are at risk with the enforcement of the C-14 Bill; which means just 1.5% of the population is safe,” he said.
Mr English said that Mr Seymour’s proposal will “let the genie out of the bottle” and create a wide range of unmanageable legal issues.
“Killing someone is a crime. We have seen that safeguards have not worked in countries which have made euthanasia legal. Young people with suicidal tendencies could not be saved because of the law; they could take their lives without their parents even knowing about it. Once released, it would be very difficult to put the genie back into the bottle,” Mr English said.
Last night, participating in a TV debate, he said that the proposed Law will make New Zealand a dangerous place for people who are young and suicidal or old and think they are a burden, or people with disabilities.
“If they have a bad day, where they wish they weren’t alive, we should be offering them kindness – but what we’re going to offer is to kill them.”
A Care Alliance Report released on Sunday 31 March said that more than 90% of the record number of 38,707 submissions to the Justice Select Committee opposed End of Life Choice Bill.
Analysis of these submissions to the Justice Select Committee showed that 34,932 (90.2%) opposed David Seymour’s End of Life Choice Bill, while just 3,141 (8.1%) were in support. The remaining 634 (1.7%) were either neutral or their position was unclear.
Peter Thirkell, Secretary of Alliance, said that the 38,707 submissions were a record for any bill before the House, “and critically they were unique rather than ’postcard’ or ‘form’ submissions.”
Seymour does not agree.
Mr Seymour disagreed, saying that a Chart taken from the Young Study shows the vast difference between support running consistently at around 70%, opposition at 20%, and undecideds at around 10% in 17 polls taken since 2002.
“These polls were taken by reputable firms such as Colmar Brunton and Reid Research, which most recently found 75% and 71% support, respectively. The Care Alliance have done a lot of work, but appear to have misconceived the purpose of Select Committee submissions as a form of de facto referendum when the real purpose is to provide evidence to parliament to improve legislation,” he said.
David Seymour is not only dismissive of Parliament’s submission process in general. He is also discrediting the Care Alliance’s quantitative and qualitative report on their analysis of 38,707 submissions while promoting a report which was written based on having read a mere 226 of them.
The cited review of 20 years’ research on New Zealanders’ attitudes to ‘assisted dying’ analysed polling only up to August 2017. A subsequent Curia Market Research Poll of 894 respondents in November 2017 found that New Zealanders confuse ‘assisted dying’ with end-of-life practices that are legal and available. This ground-breaking poll challenges the validity of most other polls on the issue. It shows that support for euphemisms such as ‘assisted dying’, ‘aid in dying’ or ‘assistance to end their life’ should not be taken as support for a law change or as support for any particular Bill.