InterChurch Bioethics Council Disappointed that the “End-of-Life-Choice Bill” has been drawn
Press Release 14/6/2017
Last week David Seymour’s “End-of-Life-Choice Bill” was drawn from the private member’s bill ballot, engaging Parliament on a debate around voluntary euthanasia – the intentional ending of a life to relieve suffering.
Although this Bill has been around since 2015 and was preceded by bills from Michael Laws (1995), Peter Brown (2003) and Maryan Street (2012), it is the timing of this bill that is disappointing to the InterChurch Bioethics Council (ICBC). In particular, there is currently before the Health Select Committee the petition from the Voluntary Euthanasia Society to investigate “public attitudes towards the introduction of legislation which would permit medically assisted dying in the event of a terminal illness or an irreversible condition which makes life unbearable.”
The Health Select committee process began in February 2016, receiving an unprecedented number of written and oral submissions (over 21,000) and their report is due by the end of June 2017. As the Care Alliance identified in a recent press release, 77% of submissions to the Health Select Committee oppose euthanasia (http://carealliance.org.nz/health-select-committee-77-of-submissions-oppose-euthanasia/, May 5, 2017).
To the ICBC it seems untenable that we now have two competing parliamentary processes – a Health Select Committee process which has sought public opinion, and a Parliamentary debate, especially given that with a looming general election it won’t be this Parliament that makes the final decision.
The ICBC also has some major concerns about the “End-of-Life-Choice Bill”. Although it provides for assisted suicide for those 18 years or older with a terminal illness, the bill also allows for those with a grievous and irremediable condition, or in advanced state of irreversible decline, or with unbearable suffering unable to be relieved in a manner the person considers tolerable. The fact that “unbearable suffering” is self-determined means that this bill effectively allows for assisted suicide on demand for any condition – not just the terminally ill. Yet the most common reason for people taking this view of their condition is depression, which is often poorly diagnosed and is potentially treatable.
There is in the bill the safeguard of needing two doctors to agree with the request and to ensure there is no coercion. However as seen in the US State of Oregon, a 2-doctor safeguard does not work over time, and neither doctor may know the patient sufficiently to be able to determine whether depression is present or if coercion is occurring.
Finally, the ICBC have concerns whether Parliament is culturally representative enough to decide this issue. The current debate is largely a rational, western, Pakeha conversation, however many cultures other than the majority ‘western’ culture have traditional ways of managing death and dying in family/whanau settings. For Māori and Pacific people physician-assisted suicide or euthanasia has no equivalent in language or practice, and talk of assisted suicide is seen as an unnatural conversation to discuss or contemplate. Therefore, the current debate risks imposing on all New Zealanders a largely “secular western worldview” without adequately considering all cultural viewpoints belonging to New Zealanders.
For the ICBC, the debate of the “End-of-Life-Choice Bill” should wait until after the Health Select Committee process is complete and findings made public, and after the General Election to prevent this highly emotive subject from being an election issue.
To view the ICBC’s written and Oral submissions to the Health Select Committee go to http://www.interchurchbioethics.org.nz/index.php/submissions-media/