Dr John Kleinsman, Director of The New Zealand Catholic Bioethics Centre
The long-awaited Justice Select Committee Report on David Seymour’s End of Life Choice Bill was finally presented to Parliament on Tuesday 9 April. Critically, the Committee, having heard more than 38,700 submissions of which more than 90 per cent were opposed, ‘were unable to agree that the bill be passed’ and did not recommend any substantial changes.
The committee has suggested some minor adjustments, described by them as being technical and consequential amendments, were the Bill to be passed into law.
Dr Peter Thirkell, Secretary of the Care Alliance (of which The Nathaniel Centre is a member organisation), welcomed the Select Committee’s own statement that the End of Life Choice Bill ‘is not workable in its present state’, stating in his press release that ‘Mr Seymour should withdraw his bill immediately. It is simply not feasible for MPs to try to ‘fix’ the bill during the Committee of the whole House stage, as that would deny New Zealanders their right to have a say on different proposals. This is simply too serious an issue for ad hoc amendments to be made on the floor of the house with no expert or wider consultation.’
Now that it has been returned to the House, the Bill will face its 2nd reading and 2nd vote. This is set to occur on 22 May 2019. Should it pass, the Bill will then go to the Committee Stage of the whole House where it will be debated, clause by clause, by all MPs.
MP David Seymour, the Bill’s sponsor, has made it clear he will put forward further amendments should the Bill get through its 2nd reading, including restricting the Bill to people with a ‘terminal illness’, a move which would involve removing ‘grievous and irremediable medical condition’ as a criterion for eligibility. While this is an attempt to tighten the Bill’s eligibility criteria, it:
(i) ignores the overwhelming evidence from overseas which shows that there is, inevitably, a logical progression to widening the scope and criteria; and
(ii) fails to deal with the inherent risks to the most vulnerable at the core of the Bill.
The dangerous consequences of legalising euthanasia and assisted suicide were graphically spelt out recently by visiting Canadian Palliative Care Physician, Dr Leonie Herx. Dr Herx spoke of her first-hand experience of working in a health system that now speaks of, and treats euthanasia and assisted suicide as a publicly funded ‘therapeutic medical service’, one that sits alongside other medical services.
In her presentation, Dr Herx noted that:
- requests for euthanasia in Canada as well as other places where some form of assisted death is available, are made for existential reasons, that is for personal or social reasons, and not because of uncontrolled pain;
- many palliative care doctors are leaving the practice in Quebec;
- there has been a rapid expansion of the eligibility criteria such that ‘foreseeable death’ is no longer a legal requirement;
- in May of 2018, the College des Medicins du Quebec reported their concern that patients were choosing euthanasia because they do not have access to palliative care;
- a government taskforce is currently looking at expanding the criteria to include ‘mature minors’, indications caused by mental illness alone and accepting advance directives as ‘consent’ for those who lack capacity because of dementia, for example.
Doctor Herx also noted there are significant problems with compliance in Canada with Quebec data showing 171 missing reports and 142 ‘unaccounted’ deaths.
Everyone who is concerned about the consequences of euthanasia being legalised in New Zealand is encouraged to exercise their democratic rights and responsibilities by signing the new Care Alliance petition to MPs’ (go online to www.carealliance.org.nz and click on the ‘sign the Petition’ button), and to visit or email their MP directly.
Read more: ‘End of Life Choice Bill should be withdrawn immediately'
Published in WelCom May 2019