Euthanasia in New Zealand
Over the last few years, there have been several events that have generated an active public discussion on euthanasia and assisted suicide in New Zealand. In 2012, then Labour List MP Maryan Street prepared a Private Members Bill, the "End of Life Choice Bill". It was subsequently withdrawn from the ballot box prior to the 2014 election campaign as the Labour Leadership did not want it debated during an election year.
Then, in 2015, Wellington lawyer Lecretia Seales, who was suffering from terminal brain cancer, sought a ruling from the High Court that "assisted dying" was not unlawful under the Crimes Act, and that a ban on "assisted dying" contravened her human rights under the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990. The Court ruled that any assistance, whether in the form of assisted suicide or euthanasia by her doctor, would be unlawful and that the relevant provisions of the Crimes Act 1961 were consistent with the rights and freedoms contained in the Bill of Rights Act. It further suggested that changes to the law sought by Ms Seales could only be made by Parliament. Justice Collins referred specifically to the complexity and broad nature of the issues that are implicated in changing the law, stating that: "The complex legal, philosophical, moral and clinical issues raised by Ms Seales' proceedings can only be addressed by Parliament passing legislation to amend the effect of the Crimes Act.".
Following this ruling, a petition organised by the Voluntary Euthanasia Society (VES) was presented to Parliament in June 2015 by former MP and VES President Maryan Street and Matt Vickers, the husband of Lecretia Seales. It asked that the House of Representatives investigate public attitudes towards the introduction of legislation permitting "medically-assisted dying". The Select Committee investigated 1) factors that contribute to the desire to end one's life, 2) the effectiveness of services and support available to those who desire to end their own lives, 3) the attitudes of New Zealanders towards the ending of one's life and the current legal situation, and 4) international experiences.
ACT Party Leader and MP David Seymour submitted his own "End of Life Choice Bill" in October 2015. The key difference from Street's Bill was that it did not include End of Life care directives. While this Select Committee inquiry was still in process, Seymour's Bill was drawn from the private members ballot box on 8 June 2017. The Bill seeks to legalise euthanasia and assisted suicide in New Zealand for people 18 years and over with either a terminal illness or "grievous and irremediable medical condition" (effectively people with disabilities, chronic, and mental health conditions).
Meanwhile, the Health Select Committee released their report on the VES petition in August 2017. The submission process received over 21,000 unique submissions from around the country between 27 August 2015 and 1 February 2016, and heard 944 oral submissions (read the submissions here). 80% of the submissions were opposed to the legalisation of euthanasia and assisted suicide in New Zealand. The Report echoed Justice Collins' observation that the issue "is clearly very complicated, very divisive, and extremely contentious", but made no clear recommendations about legislation on euthanasia or assisted suicide in New Zealand, stating that it was a usually a matter of a conscience vote. Instead, the Report encouraged "everyone with an interest in the subject to read the report in full, and to draw their own conclusions based on the evidence presented in it".
Seymour's Bill had its first reading just before Christmas on the 13 Decmeber 2017. You can read the transcript or watch the videos from the first debate here. It is currently before the Justice Select Committee, who received over 35,000 submissions from New Zealanders. The Committee are now hearing from everyone who indicated that they wanted to be heard in person by the Committee. Information about hearing times and locations can be found here. Videos from some of the hearing sessions so far can be found here. Submissions for the Bill can be found here (not all submissions have been posted yet).
It is important to understand that personal choices that people make are always contextually bound. The current New Zealand context, characterised as it is by 'functionalism', increasing ageism that is manifesting itself in growing elder abuse and an increase in the social isolation of the elderly, and a deficit understanding and fear of disability means, in our view, that there has never been a more dangerous time to make suicide and/or euthanasia more easily available.
The answer to the existential suffering that many people experience, and which drives requests for euthanasia and assisted suicide in overseas jurisdictions, is not to make it easier for people to end their lives but to continue to improve access to palliative care for all New Zealanders. It is our informed view that when all of the risks are objectively assessed and weighed up, any perceived benefits for a small minority of persons would be far outweighed by far larger numbers being exposed to the very real dangers of a premature death.
The current legal status quo remains the most responsible option for New Zealand at this time.
Download: Quick Facts: Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide.
Articles in this section are ordered according to topic.
- Assisted dying devalues the disabled - Dr John Fox, The Spinoff (2017).
- Assisted dying is not the right cure for suffering - John Fox, Hawke's Bay Today (2018).
- Assisted suicide: a chilling prospect for disabled people - Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson, Not Dead Yet (2013).
- Assisted suicide and disabled people – a briefing paper - Rachel Hurst, DAA Disability Awareness in Action.
- Assisted suicide is dangerously disablist - Phillippa Watts, Global Comment (2017).
- Assisted Suicide - What's The Big Song and Dance? - Mik Scarlet, HuffPost (2017).
- Carol Cleigh Sutton: I Oppose Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia Because It Is Abelist - Diana Coleman, Not Dead Yet (2017).
- Euthanasia a choice for people with disability? It's a threat to our lives - Craig Wallace, The Guardian (2017).
- Euthanasia: let's look at the bigger picture - Craig Wallace, ABC (2013).
- Living with dignity - Sahkira Hussein, The Saturday Paper (2014).
- Marine Corps Veteran: I'm thankful I wasn't offered assisted suicide - J.J. Hanson, Fox News (2017).
- People with disabilities often fear they're a burden. That's why legal assisted suicide scares me - Ben Mattlin, Vox (2017).
- Suicide by Choice? Not So Fast - Ben Mattlin, The New York Times (2012).
Dying/End of Life Experience
- A conversation with Dr Anna Holmes about the Art of Dying - Dr John Kleinsman, The Nathaniel Centre Report, Issue 31 (2010).
- Euthanasia opens floodgates of nastiness - Rosemary McLeod, Dominion Post Opinion (2012).
- Gilderdale's trial was horrific but necessary to retain a vital principle - Madeleine Bunting, The Guardian (2010).
- How my mother died - Tom Mortier, MercartorNet (2013).
- The importance of stories in the euthanasia debate - Professor Margaret Somerville, MercatorNet (2017).
- I'm so glad I didn't have to discuss the Assisted Dying Bill with my terminally ill mother - Catholic Herald (2014).
- Most Australians are Rubbish at Dying - Toby Hall, The Sydney Morning Herald (2017).
- My wife knew she was dying – but she chose life - John Inge, The Guardian (2014).
- What It's Like To Learn You're Going To Die - Jennie Dear, The Atlantic (2017).
- Why people nearing the end of life need the same protection we offer children - Tony Walter, The Conversation (2017).
- Why the Irish get death right - Kevin Toolis, The Guardian (2017).
- The Contagion of Euthanasia and the Corruption of Compassion - Arthur Goldberg and Shimon Cowen, The Pubilc Discourse (2017).
- Euthanasia, choice and autonomy - Bill Muehlenberg (2010).
- Euthanasia: Is it up to public opinion? - Rev Dr Graham O'Brien, Nelson Mail (2015).
- Euthanasia: Let’s at least have a robust debate - Dr John Kleinsman, The Nathaniel Centre Report, Issue 32 (2010).
- Is euthanasia for the living or the dying? - Deborah Codding, The New Zealand Herald (2012).
- Legal euthanasia kills justice for all - Dr John Kleinsman, The Sunday Star Times (2012).
- Opportunities at the end of life - Dr Michael McCabe, The Nathaniel Centre Issue 8 (2002).
- Parallels between beast and euthanasia - Sean Plunket, Dominion Post Opinion (2012).
- Professor speaks against voluntary euthanasia - John Gibb, The New Zealand Herald (2012).
- The hidden implications of euthanasia and assisted suicide - Peter Hudson, The Age (2017).
- The rationale behind the euthanasia argument: is there a right to be killed? - Dr John Kleinsman, The Nathaniel Centre Report, Issue 32 (2010).
- The voice of your despair - Rod MacLeod, The Nathaniel Centre Issue 13 (2004).
- Assisted dying: Archbishop Welby urges MPs to reject bill - BBC (2015).
- Don't make Oregon's mistake - Care Not Killing UK (2014).
- Dutch right-to-die group confirms elder abuse risk - Paul Russell, MercartorNet (2017).
- Euthanasia surges in Belgium - Simon Caldwel, IOL (2014).
- Fears voluntary euthanasia laws will make people more vulnerable to elder abuse - Rebecca Turner, ABC News (2018).
- First interdisciplinary study of Belgian euthanasia pubilshed - Michael Cook, Bioedge (2017).
- Former medical association chiefs slam plans for voluntary euthanasia - Benjamin Preiss, The Age (2017).
- Lord Falconer's "fast-track" to death assisted suicide bill - Dave Andrusko, National Right to Life News Today (2014).
- Requests for euthanasia in Belgium are rarely refused - Alex Schadenberg, Euthanasia Prevention Coalition (2013).
- So much to lose if we allow voluntary assisted dying - John Watkins, The Sydney Morning Herald (2017).
- Stage 1 Report on Assisted Suicide (Scotland) Bill - Health and Sport Committee, Scottish Parliament (2015).
- Voluntary Euthanasia and 'Assisted Dying' in Tasmania - Hannah Graham and Jeremy Prichard (2013).
- Voluntary Euthanasia is a threshold moment for Australia, and one we should not cross - Paul Keating, The Sydney Morning Herald (2017).
- We were wrong, says former regulator of Dutch euthanasia - Professor Theo Boer, MercatorNet (2014).
- A CMA doctor on the burdens and ethics of assisted death - Shannon Proudfoot, Maclean's (2016).
- A Doctor-Assisted Disaster for Medicine - William L. Toffler, The Wall Street Journal (2015).
- Doctor support for assisted suicide drops radically after legalisation - HOPE: Preventing euthanasia and assisted suicide (2018).
- Euthanasia and physician-assisted death - Dr A D (Sandy) Macleod, The New Zealand Medical Journal, vol. 125, no. 1367 (2012).
- Euthanasia is almost a declaration of no confidence in medicine - Wesley J Smith, Sputnik (2018).
- Euthanasia is so accepted that doctors must now justify prolonging a life - Barbara Kay, National post (2015).
- Euthanasia would hurt doctors and society - Professor Margaret Somerville (2010).
- I won't intentionally help my patients to end their lives - Marion Harris, The Age (2017).
- In reply to supporters of the End of Life Choice bill - Rosalie Evans, NZHPA (2018).
- In 40 years of terminal care I've never seen unmangeable suffering - David E. Richmond, The New Zealand Herald (2018).
- Psychiatrists should prevent suicide, not prescribe it - Charles Collins, Crux (2018).
- Merciful assistance or physician-assisted killing? - Ronald Pies, PsychCentral (2012).
- Physician-assisted suicide poisons the mission of medicine - Associate Professor J. Donald Boudreau, The Globe and Mail (2012).
- The role of palliative care - Dr Frank Brennan, presented at The Euthanasia Debate: Why Now? Conference (2011).
- Speaking from the bedside: palliative medicine and euthanasia don't mix - Dr Sinéad Donnelly, The Nathaniel Centre Report, Issue 32 (2010).
Official Reports & Statements
- 101 oncologists oppose assisted suicide legislation - Melbourne Catholic (2017).
- Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia: A Guide to the Evidence - Professor David Albert Jones, Anscombe Bioethics Centre Oxford (2015).
- A Report on Euthanasia for the NZMA - Grant Gillett, (2012).
- Euthanasia: Position Statement - New Zealand Medical Association (2005).
- Killing Me Softly. Should Euthanasia Be Legalised? - Professor Rex Adhar, Family First New Zealand (2014).
- Physician assisted suicide: The British Geriatrics Society's position - British Geriatrics Society (2015).
- Report on Inquiry into Medically-Assisted Dying - New Zealand Health Select Committee (2017).
- Resolution on Euthanasia - World Medical Association (2013).
- Sense and Nonsense on 'Assisted Dying' - Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales (2014).
- Statement of the Catholic Bishops of Alberta on Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia - Catholic Bishops of Alberta (2016).
- Submission to the Health Select Committee New Zealand - Caritas Aotearoa New Zealand (2016).
Public Opinion/Discourse, Law
- Assisted dying laws pose a grave risk to the vulnerable - Joel Hodge, The Age (2017).
- 'Assisted dying' & public opinion - Care Not Killing UK (2014).
- Both sides make emotional pleas as lawmakers oppose physician-assisted suicide in D.C. - Bradford Richardson, The Washington Times (2017).
- Euthanasia and the common good - Charlotte Paul, Corpus (2018).
- Euthanasia laws: the true implications - John Buchanan, The Spectator Australia (2017).
- How 'safeguards' aimed at limiting assisted suicide are collapsing - Dr Angelo Bottone, Iona Institute (2017).
- I'm an atheist and against euthanasia - Kevin Yuill, The Spectator (2017).
- Language as a battlefield: How we got from euthanasia to voluntary assisted dying - Karl Quinn, The Sydney Morning Herald (2017).
- Legalising assisted dying would be a failure of collective human memory and imagination - Margaret Somerville, The Guardian (2017).
- Lives are precious, don't let anyone tell you otherwise - Bay of Plenty Times (2018).
- The murky issue of whether the public supports assisted dying - Katherine Sleeman, The Conversation (2017).
- Narelle Hanson: Complex matters of life and death - Narelle Hanson, Waikato Times (2017).
- New York Court: No right to assisted suicide - Alex Schadenburg, Euthanasia Prevention Coalition (2017).
- Quality end-of-life care should be nation's priority - Terry Sarten, Wanganui Chronicle (2018).
- Sound law-making requires clear language - Living and Dying Well (2013).
- Speaking to a secular age - Professor Margaret Somerville, The Nathaniel Centre Report, Issue 26 (2008).
- Why I'll be voting no to the Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill 2017 - Walt Secord, The Sydney Morning Herald (2017).
- Why we didn't back the euthanasia bill - Simon O'Connor, The New Zealand Herald (2017).
- All about relieving suffering? Think again - HOPE: Preventing Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide (2017).
- Assisted dying legislation creates different categories of human life - Emma Dawson, The Age (2017).
- Compassion beyond constraint - Dr Michael McCabe, The Nathaniel Centre Report, Issue 4 (2001).
- How many botched cases would it take to end euthanasia of the vulnerable - Charles Lane, The Washington Post (2018).
- Please, doctor, put him out of our misery - Michael Cook, MercatorNet (2013).
- We need a society which cares, not kills - Erik Leipoldt, MercatorNet (2010).
- Why I believe assisting people to die would dehumanise our society for ever - Justin Welby, The Guardian (2015).
- A momentum shift against assisted suicide - J.J. Hanson, Washington Examiner (2017).
- Assisted dying: when staying alive is the best option - Dan Satherley, Newshub (2017).
- Assisted Suicide: Reflections from the Front - Christopher Jones, Care Not Killing UK (2014).
- Assisted suicide: right to die or duty to die - Dr John Kleinsman, The Nathaniel Centre Issue 31 (2010).
- Only one certainty if we make assisted suicide legal - Dominic Perrottet, The Sydney Morning Herald (2017).
- Report on Inquiry into Medically-Assisted Dying - Nancy Valko, Public Discourse (2014).
- Why legalising assisted suicide for anyone at all will inevitably lead to incremental extension - Peter Saunders (2012).
Assisted Suicide in Oregon – Updated Facts re Safeguards
The State of Oregon (population 3.93 million) law allowing doctors to prescribe lethal overdoses for some patients’ suicides took legal effect late in 1997. Supporters often point to its safeguards operating well and having prevented abuse. In fact the data suggest that the “safeguards” are largely meaningless. The numbers of deaths under the Oregon Death with Dignity Act has greatly increased over the years.
- In Oregon, 1545 lethal prescriptions have been written and at least 991 patients have ingested the drugs up to the end of 2015.
- In 2015 there were 132 deaths, a 26% increase over 2014 and almost eight times the deaths in the law’s first full year.
- All reporting about doctor-assisted deaths is self-reporting by the doctors prescribing lethal drugs.
- Doctors cannot report reliably on the situation when patients actually ingest the lethal overdose and die, as nothing in the law requires them to be present. No one else who may be present is required to report.
- In Oregon, the prescribing physician was present at the time of death in only 11% of cases in 2013 and 2015 and 14% in 2014, compared to an average of 16.5% in previous years.
- From 1998 to 2012, on average only 6.2% of patients who died under the Act in Oregon were referred for counselling to check for “impaired judgment.” In 2013-2015 this declined to less than 4%.
- Once lethal drugs have been prescribed the Act has no requirements for assessing the patient’s consent, competency, or voluntariness. No witnesses are required at the time of death.
- In 2015, a clear majority were women (58%, compared to an average of 47% in past years).
- Those dying under the law increasingly have no or only governmental health insurance – 56% in 2013, 60% in 2014, and 63% in 2015 (compared to an average of 35% in past years).
- Inadequate treatment for pain or concern about it, is not among the top reasons for taking lethal drugs; in 2015, over 90% cite “losing the ability to engage in activities making life enjoyable” and “losing autonomy,” and 48% cite being a “burden” on family, friends or caregivers (compared to an average of 40% in past years).
Oregon Death with Dignity Act: Data summaries 2013, 2014 and 2015. https://public.health.oregon.gov/ProviderPartnerResources/EvaluationResearch/DeathwithDignityAct/Pages/ar-index.aspx
Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
If euthanasia is a ‘right’ then it must be universal … and if it is universal then we can’t deny it to anyone. Once we allow it for some circumstances then, over time, we will have to allow it for many.