End of Life Choice Bill
This Bill proposes legal assisted suicide and euthanasia by deadly drugs for New Zealanders 18 years or older, who have a terminal illness that will likely end their lives in six months, or a “grievous and irremediable medical condition”. The criteria are wide and subjective enough to include disabilities, longstanding, degerative and ageing-related conditions and mental illness.
On 9 April 2019 Parliament’s Justice Committee published their report on the Bill and the submissions process. Parliament may vote on the Second Reading of this Bill on Wednesday 1 May or Wednesday 22 May.
Assisted suicide and euthanasia for almost any New Zealander over 18.
David Seymour’s End of Life Choice Bill proposes that any New Zealand citizen or permanent resident 18 years or older will be eligible for ‘assisted dying’ if he or she suffers from:
- a terminal illness or other medical condition that is likely to end his or her life within 6 months; or
- 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; and
- has the ability to understand the nature of assisted dying; and the consequences for him or her of assisted dying.
Clearly voluntary euthanasia advocates do NOT want legislation only for the terminally ill, but also for people with ‘irreversible’ or ‘irremediable’ physical and psychological conditions. The David Seymour End of Life Choice Bill is not the first one with such wide eligibility criteria. Maryan Street’s End of Life Choice Bill 2012 as well as the End of Life Options Bill (proposed by the Voluntary Euthanasia Society in 2015), would all effectively cause virtually anyone over 18 years to be eligible.
Some issues with David Seymour’s End of Life Choice Bill
David Seymour’s End of Life Choice Bill effectively proposes assisted suicide and euthanasia on demand for anyone 18 years or older due to its vague and subjective terminology:
- There is no clear definition of ‘terminal illness’. It could be interpreted to include any condition that is life-shortening or life-threatening. There is no bright line between terminal conditions and chronic conditions. Some chronic conditions can become life-threatening in a matter of minutes, for example diabetes, asthma, severe allergies and high blood pressure. There is also no bright line between terminal illness and disabilities, because many disabilities are life-limiting and involve complications that can become life-threatening. Even clinical depression could be regarded as a terminal condition by some, because it could lead to death (suicide), or to losing the will to live and fight a disease.
- It’s impossible for doctors to accurately predict how long a person is expected to live, especially as long as six months out. There have been cases of people who were expected to die within hours or days, but they recovered and lived for months or years. Diagnosis can also be wrong, despite a doctor’s best intentions. Diagnosis and prognosis are not based on certainty, but on probability (the likelihood based on other cases). There is no guarantee that an individual’s disease will progress the same way as others’ have.
- The phrase ‘irremediable medical condition’ is vague enough to include any condition that is not cured within an expected time frame. Any condition can become ‘irremediable’ if a person exercises their right to refuse further treatment. ‘Irremediable conditions’ could possibly include disabilities; chronic conditions such as arthritis, asthma, gluten intolerance or chronic pain; mental illness such as anxiety or depression; ageing-related conditions such as the deterioration of eyesight, mobility or skin elasticity; scarring; and even skin pigmentation such as age spots or birth marks… Please note: We are not claiming that a person with one of the above-mentioned conditions would be eligible for an assisted death under this Bill, as all the eligibility criteria would need to be met and applications would need be assessed on a case by case basis. The point we are making is that the phrase “irremediable medical condition” is open to wide interpretation.
- Words such as ‘grievous’, ‘unbearable suffering’ and ‘intolerable’ are entirely subjective (up to the individual to determine). If a patient would use any of these words to describe their condition, the doctor would not be able to argue.
- ‘An advanced state of irreversible decline in capability’ is just a wordy way of saying ‘disability’ or ‘ageing’. The Bill doesn’t explain what is meant by ‘capability’. Could a person qualify who has become less able to run, walk, read, or enjoy life? Could a person’s ‘decline in capability’ become ‘irreversible’ by them refusing treatment?
- The Seymour End of Life Choice Bill doesn’t mention depression. Even if it did specifically exclude depression, some depressed people could still access death instead of treatment under such legislation. Depression can be hidden, even from doctors. Depression can be misdiagnosed or dismissed as ‘understandable depression’. Even subclinical depression can still have an effect on a person’s decision making capabilities.