MP David Seymour is promoting a private member’s End of Life Choice Bill which had its first reading in Parliament on December 13 2017. The Bill has been referred to the Justice Select Committee and a call made for public submissions which close on Feb 20 2018. We urge everyone who is opposed to this Bill to:
- make a submission (see reasons for opposing the Bill below)
- contact your local MP (they are keen to hear from you)
- visit your local Member of Parliament (here is a list of MPs who voted against the Bill)
What did MPs have to say in opposition to the Bill?
Listen to the arguments given by Bill English, Simon O’Connor, Nuk Korako , Maggie Barry and Chris Penk during the first reading debate.
6 key reasons for opposing this Bill
1. Only doctors would be permitted to administer the lethal doses of medication to end the lives of patients, despite the practice being viewed as objectionable and unethical by a large majority of doctors in New Zealand
The New Zealand Medical Association, along with all professional bodies involved in palliative care in New Zealand, views euthanasia and assisted suicide as unethical. Around 85% of the 330 medical doctors who made a submission to the Health Select Committee investigation into end of life issues were opposed to legalisation, as were 81% of 455 nurses who made a submission. Under this Bill, doctors are required to decide who should live and who should die using broadly worded and subjective criteria. Any law which coerces the medical profession as a whole to be deeply embedded in something they see as unethical is an unacceptable law.
2. The autonomous choice promised by the End of Life Choice Bill is a smokescreen, because assisted dying by definition requires a medical doctor to administer a lethal medication with the deliberate intention of killing the very person claiming autonomy
True autonomy implies having control over one’s circumstances and context and being able to choose from a range of options. But when someone has minimal ability to determine the conditions in which they live, choice can become little more than conformity. Yet this will be the case for many of our elders as they face life-limiting illnesses in the context of a society where the elderly are increasingly socially isolated and abused, and viewed by some as a burden.
3. There is no precedent in New Zealand for the state-sanctioned killing of one citizen by another as is proposed in this Bill, because safeguards simply cannot guarantee that everyone will be protected from a wrongful death
Dr Stephen Child, presenting to the Health Select Committee on behalf of the NZ Medical Association, makes the point well: “Given that even the most carefully crafted legislation will be unable to ensure infallible safeguards, the gravity of the risk in question – a wrongful death – is of sufficient magnitude to override many of the arguments for the legalisation of euthanasia, including patient choice.”
4. International experience shows that, once a country accepts the principle of allowing doctors to terminate the lives of patients in certain circumstances, cultural attitudes towards death and dying change profoundly and the criteria for eligibility are expanded
The arguments made to introduce a Bill such as this are based on the grounds of compassion in a few extreme cases (see EOLC Bill Explanatory note: “the small but significant group of competent adults … who wish to die without unbearable suffering and pain”). Once the Bill becomes law, there is a shift to rights-based arguments which inevitably end up expanding the already arbitrary and highly subjective eligibility criteria.
5. Social pressure will be brought to bear on vulnerable people who will increasingly interpret the “choice to die” as a “duty to die”
The very act of offering a choice to terminate life through lethal medication sends a powerful social signal that a person’s life can lose its moral value and may not be worth living if they are suffering from some debilitating or burdensome condition. This is an unconscionable message to send to anyone who is battling a chronic condition, and who feels a burden or vulnerable in some other way.
Former Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating agrees: “An alarming aspect of the debate is the claim that safeguards can be provided at every step to protect the vulnerable. This claim exposes the bald utopianism of the project – the advocates support a bill to authorise termination of life in the name of compassion, while at the same time claiming they can guarantee protection of the vulnerable, the depressed and the poor. No law and no process can achieve that objective.” 
6. The Bill detracts from and undermines the present singular focus on providing excellent palliative care across the country
Neither Palliative care physicians and nurses, nor Hospice New Zealand, recognise euthanasia and assisted suicide as a legitimate part of palliative care. Hospice staff carry out more than 142,000 visits annually to people around the country. This enormous good, based upon absolute trust in the philosophy of care and motives of palliative care physicians and hospice staff, is at serious risk of being undermined by this bill.
Too often the EAS debate is characterised as a simple choice between suffering and euthanasia or assisted suicide. But as Dr Frank Brennan observes, “the choice is a false one, blind to enormous advances made over many decades in actively dealing with the constituent parts of suffering … physical, emotional and spiritual. One of the myths in this debate is that palliative care is powerless to assist patients who are heavily burdened”. 
 Alex Huntir, Palliative care practitioners speak against assisted dying ahead of final debate Palliative Care NSW, 2017.