Dr John Kleinsman, Director, The New Zealand Catholic Bioethics Centre
In March 2018, the Justice Committee announced more than 35,000 unique submissions were received on David Seymour’s End of Life Choice Bill; unprecedented for a Select Committee in the history of our parliament. The Committee will report its findings to parliament in March 2019. In the meantime, committee members continue to travel around New Zealand hearing from the over 3000 people and organisations who asked to make an oral submission.
One question that continues to be ignored by those who promote legalisation of euthanasia is: ‘Why health professionals?’ Both the public and politicians continue to assume that euthanasia fits into the role of health professionals. Yet as groups like the New Zealand Medical Association, Hospice New Zealand, Palliative Care Nurses NZ, Health Professionals Alliance and the Australian and NZ Society of Palliative Medicine continually point out, euthanasia is not part of healthcare.
Euthanasia contradicts a core tenet of medical care – to do no harm; a principle traditionally identified with the Hippocratic oath. Euthanasia would remain unethical even if it became legal, as the World Medical Association outline in their position statement on euthanasia.
Worse, making doctors the agents providing euthanasia requires they make value judgments about people’s quality of life and whether certain groups of people are worthy of life. As one commentator recently put it: ‘Patients must be able to consult their doctors in the clear knowledge and trust that the doctor is working to provide care and support, not sizing them up to administer a lethal dose’.
Introducing euthanasia into medical care directly conflicts with a role built on trust; to cure where possible, comfort often, and care always, but never to harm. Our health-care practices must continue to reflect the objective and intrinsic value of all lives. Our health professionals must continue to unconditionally care for and stand by patients in the presence of suffering and death. This means rejecting attempts to introduce euthanasia into our systems of health care – or any of our other systems of care for that matter, as The Nathaniel Centre has consistently argued.