Dutch medical ethicist visits New Zealand

13 Oct 2019

Dr John Kleinsman

The End of Life Choice Bill continues to be debated, clause by clause, by the ‘Committee of the Whole House’ – meaning every MP has a chance to comment on it or propose amendments. It is anticipated the Bill will come up for its third and final reading and vote on either Wednesday 23 October or on the following Members’ Day, Wednesday 13 November 2019.

Immediately after the second reading of the Bill [26 June 2019], sponsor MP David Seymour introduced a Supplementary Order Paper to narrow the Bill’s scope so that, if it were to pass, it would:

  • only apply to persons with a terminal illness likely to end their life within six months and who were experiencing unbearable suffering unable to be relieved in a manner the person considers tolerable.

Commenting on the revised Bill, and comparing it with what happens in the Netherlands, visiting Dutch medical ethicist and former supporter of euthanasia, Professor Theo Boer, recently noted that the New Zealand Bill lacked precision, including the review process. Professor Boer, who was visiting New Zealand in September, was also adamant the very process of providing euthanasia in New Zealand would create further demand: ‘The question is not if the limitation to the terminally ill will be challenged. It is when that will happen.’ In the Netherlands, the numbers of people accessing euthanasia in the last ten years has tripled. It is no longer a measure of last resort for the so-called ‘hard cases’ but is quickly becoming the preferred way to die in many parts of Holland where up to 30 per cent of foreseen deaths are now happening through euthanasia.

Professor Boer also noted, in numerous interviews, that euthanasia in the Netherlands is not about pain: ‘The most frequent reasons are care-dependence and meaninglessness.’ This mirrors the situation in the State of Oregon where data is collected on those who apply for an assisted suicide. The Oregon evidence shows the most common end-of-life concerns relate to existential questions; ‘being less able to engage in enjoyable activities’, ‘loss of autonomy’, ‘loss of dignity’, and ‘being a burden on family and friends’.

Finally, Professor Boer expressed concern about the potential impact of legalising euthanasia on New Zealand’s rates of suicide. While acknowledging those who maintain the two scenarios are in some respects distinct, Professor Boer pointed out that in the Netherlands suicide rates have gone up 35 per cent in the last 10 years while, in all other neighbouring countries, the suicide rates have fallen.

Published in WelCom October 2019

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