Understanding the issue
What is euthanasia?
An act which of itself and by intention causes the death of another person in order to eliminate their suffering. Medically assisted euthanasia (or Physician Assisted Euthanasia, PAE) refers to an act undertaken by a physician or other health professional.
What is assisted suicide?
This happens when a person commits suicide with assistance from others, often by self-administering a lethal substance that has been obtained with the assistance of a third party.
What is physician-assisted suicide?
Physician-assisted suicide (PAS) refers to a situation where a doctor prescribes or provides a lethal substance to a person which they can then take themselves at some later time when they decide to end their life.
Withholding or withdrawing treatment is not euthanasia
When a treatment is judged to be medically futile, or when the benefits of a particular treatment are deemed to be outweighed by the burdens for a particular person, it is a question of accepting the inevitability of death and allowing the person to return to their dying.
The New Zealand Code of Health and Disability Services Consumers' Rights allows for any person to refuse services and to withdraw consent to services.
People have a right to be free of pain
When a health professional administers medication with the sole intention of relieving a patient's pain, that action is morally acceptable even if it foreseeably shortens the patient's life. This is not an act of (slow) euthanasia as some claim.
End of Life Choice Bill - Key Facts
In October 2015, ACT Party Leader and MP David Seymour submitted his "End of Life Choice Bill" to the private members ballot, five months after the Seales vs. Attorney General high court case and only weeks after the submission of a petition from the Voluntary Euthanasia Society calling for an investigation into euthanasia and assisted suicide. Seymour's Bill was drawn from the ballot box on 8 June 2017 and currently awaits its first reading, which will occur sometime in the 52nd Parliament after the 2017 election on 23 September. Some key features of the bill are that it.
- provides for both physician-assisted euthanasia (PAE) and physician-assisted suicide (PAS)
- places doctors at the centre of euthanasia and assisted suicide, contradicting the ethical stance of key medical groups such as the New Zealand Medical Association, Australia and New Zealand Society of Palliative Medicine, Palliative Care Nurses New Zealand, as well as the World Medical Association
- includes any competent persons aged 18 years suffering from "a grievous and irremediable medical condition; and... is in an advanced state of irreversible decline in capability; and experiences unbearable suffering that cannot be relieved in a manner that he or she considers tolerable..."
- allows for "unbearable suffering" to be self-defined
- does not require the person receive, or even have access to, appropriate medical, psychiatric or palliative care
- would make PAE or PAS available to a range of persons not actually dying
- does not oblige persons to talk to anyone other than the facilitating doctor
- would include intellectual and physical disability as well as mental illness and the increasing frailty of old age
- places responsibility for PAE/PAS on the shoulders of doctors but does not require the administering doctor to have any prior knowledge of the applicant as a patient
- allows for a lethal prescription for PAS to be provided 6 months or more before the person is likely to die, even though doctors cannot predict when death will occur with any degree of certainty even when it is imminent. Once a prescription for PAS is granted, all safeguards and monitoring cease. There is no way to monitor its use. It would be impossible to know if a person struggled or was coerced into taking the medication
- asks doctors to record on the death certificate the underlying illness or condition as the cause of death when in fact this would not be the case at all.
Read the bill (pdf)
Download "Quick Facts: Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide" (pdf)
The Dangers of Euthanasia - key arguments
- The key issue is not compassion or morality – people on both sides of the debate want to prevent intolerable suffering. The key issue is the long-term consequences of a law change for public safety. This is an issue of social justice – protecting the vulnerable.
- Changing the law would send a message that the lives of some are not worth living – it will steer persons towards a premature death.
- Allowing PAE/PAS opens the door for the disabled, sick and elderly to see themselves as an excessive financial and emotional burden. The 'right to die' could very quickly become a 'duty to die'. No legislation can protect against this.
- Good clinical care aims to eliminate the pain, not kill the patient. The NZ Medical Association, the Society of Palliative Medical Physicians & Palliative Care Nurses New Zealand Society all oppose a law change.
- The fact that PAE and PAS are illegal means maximum efforts are made to relieve pain and address all aspects of a person's suffering. Will this still occur if the law is changed?
- We should not ask doctors, who have a duty of care, to be involved in killing their patients.
- When seriously ill patients receive good palliative care they rarely want to end their lives.
- It is neither possible nor rational to limit PAE or PAS to particular groups of people or specific conditions. There would be the same erosion of boundaries here in New Zealand as has occurred overseas.
- Legalising voluntary PAE/PAS paves the way for euthanasia without request or consent.
- The legalising of PAE and PAS, especially for irreversible and unbearable mental conditions, accepts that 'some suicides are okay'. This risks sending a 'mixed message' regarding the tragedy of youth suicide and creates a confusing double standard.
- Suicidal thoughts are usually associated with depression. Research shows that when depression is properly treated, most people change their minds about wanting to die.
- Many assume that changing the law will simply allow the very small number of high-profile cases to proceed without legal objection. In fact, 'legalisation leads to normalisation' and, as has happened overseas, will lead to greatly increased numbers dying that way.
- Abuse of the disabled and elderly is a serious issue in our country. Legalising euthanasia puts the elderly at further risk, especially in a society where the numbers of elderly are growing and there is increasing pressure on the health budget.
- New Zealand abolished the death penalty in large part because of the danger of executing even one innocent person. Legalising PAE/PAS will inevitably lead to some people being killed ‘when they don’t want to die’.
- These days no-one need die in pain. Persistent requests for euthanasia are mostly related not to unrelieved pain but to a desire to be in control, a fear of being a burden or the experience of social isolation. Euthanasia is not the right or best response to these issues.
- Changing the law would create a legal situation in which the state licenses death in advance and sanctions the death of certain of its citizens.
- Legalising PAE/PAS undermines the long-standing convention against killing persons.
- The law already has the ability to show compassion to people who, in a state of anguish find themselves involved in assisting a suicide.
- Changing the law will not mean an end to such cases going to court as it could still be difficult to distinguish between an assisted suicide and a murder.
- Granting a very small and vocal minority the choice to be killed will undermine the choice and/or will of many others to live.
Call to Action – What you can do
- Find out as much as possible about the issue.
- Talk about euthanasia with your family and friends.
- Discuss the issue in the workplace and in other groups you are involved in.
- Write a personalised letter to your local Member of Parliament using your own words and selecting 3 or 4 arguments. Avoid the use of form letters.
- Visit your Member of Parliament to express your view – stick to the issue and do not mix it up with other issues.
How to write to your MP:
- Make sure you have the MP’s name and title correct and address him/her accordingly (Titles of MPs are available on the parliamentary website)
(See:Members of Parliament)
- Introduce your topic: Re: …………. so the recipient knows what you are writing about.
- Introduce yourself and your interest in the topic.
- Avoid religious or moralistic language. Be factual.
- Make your points as succinctly as possible – keep to one page or less.
- If you are quoting from documents or Bills etc., include references
- Be polite – even if you feel very strongly on the issue. Abuse is not acceptable.
- Sign the letter.
- You are able to write to any MP free of charge at:
Private Bag 18-888
Ethics and Euthanasia - A Debate that Never Dies
Baroness the Professor Ilora Finlay being interviewed by Kim Hill
NZ Catholic Bishops message
[27 September 2013]
|In 2012 Labour MP Maryan Street prepared a Private Members Bill, the “End of Life Choice Bill”. The NZ Catholic Bishops sent the following letter to NZ Catholics in response to the Bill. The Bill was subsequently withdrawn from the private members ballot box in 2013 in order to avoid a controversial debate during election year.
Dear Fellow New Zealanders,
The present attempt to make euthanasia and assisted-suicide legal in New Zealand is a matter of extremely serious concern. We want to encourage you to take the time to become fully informed about this very important issue.
There are many reasons why people object to legalising euthanasia and/or assisted-suicide. While these can include religious and moral ones, our concern is to point out the social dangers of such a law change.
Many people from a variety of personal and professional backgrounds share our concern that a law change would introduce a new and dangerous dimension to our society.
The legalisation of euthanasia would:
- send a message that the lives of some people are not worth living
- mean the sick, elderly, disabled and dying would too easily see themselves as a financial and/or emotional burden on their families and communities
- put further pressure on elderly people at a time when elder abuse is a growing problem
- send a mixed message about suicide when youth suicide remains at critical levels in New Zealand, well above all other countries in the OECD
- undermine trust in the medical profession and put pressure on doctors and nurses to act against their consciences.
Legalising euthanasia would place the lives of vulnerable people at risk, including those whom others might be tempted to think would be better off dead. For some people, it will undermine their choice to live. The mark of a good society is its ability and willingness to care for those who are most vulnerable. The current law offers people who are dying the best protection and provides the best motivation and conditions for quality palliative care.
We urge you to make your views known, especially to your local Member of Parliament.