Top 5 Reasons Why MPs Should Vote NO at Second Reading
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Since Sunday 10 March 2019, #DefendNZ has shared the stories of people who could be eligible for euthanasia or assisted suicide under this Bill. They shared with us the realities of their contexts and struggles, and their concerns with this Bill and how it would affect them.
It is against the law to assist in someone’s suicide or to end someone else’s life, even with that person’s consent. Justice Collins found in the Seales case that these laws were very clear in their intent: there is an inviolability to human life – it may neither be thrown away nor taken away – and the law upholds this inviolability for the good of all. The breadth of these laws, covering all human life, was necessary, Collins concluded, in order to protect all people. They are in line with the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act.
The End of Life Choice Bill seeks to amend these laws by inserting an asterisk, of sorts, next to certain categories of people. For those eligible for assisted suicide or euthanasia under the Bill, the State’s protection of their lives in prescribed circumstances will be lifted. It will become permissible for a doctor to end the lives of some of their patients.
The main arguments in support of this Bill are to give control over one’s death and to avoid future suffering. However, the Bill doesn’t deliver. It offers only one option – lethal drugs – within a prescribed process and at the ultimate discretion and control of doctors, rather than the patient – without any guarantee of a suffering-free death. These arguments don’t make the case that the law protecting everyone needs to be changed.
The current law and justice system can and does show great understanding and compassion. The current law maintains the standard of the inviolability of all human life and acts as a deterrent to those who would take a life or assist in a suicide for abusive or misguided motives. However, the court can exercise discretion with compassion and consider extenuating circumstances. The law has a stern face but a kind heart.
The End of Life Choice Bill is not a minor amendment to the criminal law, it is a complete undermining of the basic principle that it is wrong to take a human life or to be a party to a human suicide. The current law doesn’t need to change to show compassion to those at the end of life; those eligible for euthanasia and assisted suicide under the Bill don’t have to lose the law’s protection over their lives.
The End of Life Choice Bill does not have to pass. Most jurisdictions around the world that consider the legalisation of euthanasia and/or assisted suicide defeat those bills.
In just the past year, at least seven jurisdictions have considered euthanasia and/or assisted suicide bills and have defeated them or have had them withdrawn due to lack of support. The most recent terminations of such a bill came in the US state of Utah in January 2019, New Mexico in mid-March 2019, and in the US state of Maryland in April 2019.
Legislators around the world withhold their support for euthanasia and assisted suicide laws because they see the inherent dangers in licensing doctors to end life. They look to overseas jurisdictions where these practices are legal, and they decide that they don’t want to unleash in their countries and states increasing numbers of euthanasia and assisted suicide deaths, extensions in the practice of the law, abuses, and the deaths of those who shouldn’t have died. They listen to those who would be most affected by the passage of a euthanasia or assisted suicide law –people with disabilities and others who are vulnerable – and they decide that they do not want to put so many of their citizens at risk. It’s ok to say “no” to euthanasia and assisted suicide. It’s the right thing to do.
The stakes in the End of Life Choice Bill are high – it is literally a life-and-death issue. Don’t expect the conversations about euthanasia and assisted suicide to end if the Bill gets past its Second Reading. Expect the conversations to get longer and much more intense.
All but a few realise that the End of Life Choice Bill is a highly flawed document. Should the Bill pass its Second Reading, the Committee of the Whole House stage will likely be extremely lengthy, as dozens of MPs try to fix the Bill – often in mutually exclusive ways. Should “grievous and irremediable conditions” be left in, or taken out, or even expanded to include more conditions? Should doctors be compelled to take part in ending patients’ lives, or will conscience protections be more explicitly stated? And how many ways can people think of to try and protect patients with depression from accessing assisted suicide and euthanasia – and which of them would be most effective?
And if the Bill makes it through the gamut of Committee stage, and passes at Third Reading, still the conversation doesn’t go away. Pushes for the law to be expanded beyond the carefully set parameters just debated in Parliament would come almost immediately, if the Canadian experience is anything to go by. Once Parliament legislates that some people may choose the manner and timing of their death, others will demand the same. Borderline cases first, and then the boundaries will be pushed further and further out.
The only way to get conversations about euthanasia and assisted suicide out of Parliament is to defeat the End of Life Choice Bill.
Currently, there is a bright line that demarcates when a human life may be intentionally taken – never. Pass the End of Life Choice Bill, and that line becomes blurred as it allows people through who are eligible for euthanasia and assisted suicide.
No matter the limits on eligibility inserted into the Bill, it would be impossible to contain who gets through that once bright line. Be it broad and including grievous and irremediable medical conditions, or be it narrow and limited to terminal illness, these criteria will not hold up for long. Pushes to expand the eligibility criteria will come swiftly and incessantly. Once the law has changed from a blanket prohibition against intentional killing to a law that allows it for a certain group of people, there would be no logical place to draw the line.
In the Netherlands euthanasia and assisted suicide were once limited to the terminally ill. Then euthanasia was extended to newborns. Then it became possible to be euthanised for mental illness in the absence of a physical disease. And those with dementia, who could no longer consent to euthanasia, began to be euthanised. And the numbers of euthanasia for these conditions increased. All of this expansion has occurred without the original law changing. And now pushes are being made to allow euthanasia for those over the age of 70, who are simply “tired of life.”
In Canada, the expansions in the categories of those eligible for euthanasia have occurred much faster than they did in the Netherlands. Only two years since legalisation being passed, interpretation of the requirement for natural death to be “reasonably foreseeable” has expanded in practice. And efforts to expand the law even further are making their way through the courts, with cases under way demanding euthanasia for nonterminal illness, disability, mental illness, dementia, and for children.
Even in the US state of Oregon, which is often held up as a jurisdiction where no extension of the law has occurred, extensions of the scope of the law have occurred in practice. At first intended for people with a terminal illness with a prognosis of six-months or less to live, the law is increasingly being applied as meaning six months or less to live without receiving medical treatment.
According to official reports, assisted suicide is increasingly being accessed by people with conditions that are usually considered chronic rather than terminal, such as diabetes or musculoskeletal disorders. The law hasn’t changed, but the way it is being applied on the ground, in doctors’ offices, has.
Passing the End of Life Choice Bill means accepting that the criteria decided now in Parliament will be expanded. They will be expanded in doctors’ offices, in the courts, and, perhaps, one day, back in parliament.
No matter what amendments are made to the End of Life Choice Bill, it will never be able to guarantee that legalising assisted suicide and euthanasia will not bring about wrongful deaths or abuse. This Bill will never be safe.
No amendment can guarantee that someone won’t be coerced into requesting an assisted suicide or euthanasia death. Manipulation and abuse, not to mention indirect coercion, can all occur behind closed doors and remain unknown and unreported. In any abuse statistics, percentages of people suffering abuse are always understated because abuse occurs without anyone outside the relationship knowing what is really going on.
No amendment can guarantee that doctors won’t make mistakes in diagnosis and/or prognosis for patients who might then request assisted suicide or euthanasia. Diagnosis and prognosis are based on probability, not certainty. What if someone is told they have terminal cancer, and they are administered euthanasia, but it is later discovered the diagnosis was wrong, and they were not, in fact, terminal? Or if someone is told they have only a few months to live, and they access assisted suicide, but they could have lived for several more years?
No amendment can halt the changes to and expectations of society once euthanasia and assisted suicide are legal. Currently, it is a given that sick, disabled and elderly people are cared for until their natural death. The availability of assisted suicide as a legal option would make staying alive optional, instead of the default. Those who are eligible for assisted suicide and euthanasia could begin to feel that they now have to justify to themselves and others why they’re putting the health system to the expense of keeping them alive, and why they’re putting their family and caregivers through the burden of caring for them. Vulnerable people could feel societal pressure to end their lives.
New Zealand outlawed the death penalty on the grounds that even one innocent death would be too many. The death penalty had many safeguards built into it, including jury trials and several rounds of judicial appeal, and yet, wrongful deaths could still occur. It was decided the State should not be involved in intentionally ending human life.
No law or policy is ever perfect – they all have unintended consequences, some of them detrimental to some in society. But no other law or policy involves the State sanctioning someone’s death at the hand of another. Unintended consequences in education policy may mean that some children don’t get the education they deserve, or that some teachers don’t have the resources they need to teach effectively – negative consequences, but fixable. Unintended consequences in euthanasia policy may mean that someone’s life has been ended that shouldn’t have been. There’s no rectifying that situation – the person is gone.