Euthanasia referendum - End of Life Choice Act is 'unsafe, uncaring, unkind'

Pacific community and faith based leaders who condemn the End of Life Choice Act say it sets a dangerous precedent.

12th October, 2020

Euthanasia referendum - End of Life Choice Act is 'unsafe, uncaring, unkind'

Should euthanasia be legal? That's the question facing voters in one of two referendums being held on Election Day this Saturday. In the first of two articles examining both sides of the issue, Ruci Farrell and Rhonda Moala examine the arguments against the End of Life Choice Act.

Pacific community and faith based leaders who condemn the End of Life Choice Act say it sets a dangerous precedent.

The contentious act, gives people with a terminal illness the option of assisted dying.

To be able to ask for assisted dying, a person must meet all the following criteria. They must: 

  • be aged 18 years or over
  • be a citizen or permanent resident of New Zealand
  • suffer from a terminal illness that's likely to end their life within 6 months
  • have significant and ongoing decline in physical capability
  • experience unbearable suffering that cannot be eased 
  • be able to make an informed decision about assisted dying.

But University of Otago Law Faculty professor Rex Tauati Ahdar describes the act as "therapeutic killing".

He says it is not well drafted and the slippery side of the act is the psychological side.

“Once we become accustomed to the idea of voluntarily ending life, it becomes easier for society to take further steps to end the lives of those who feel life is not worth living or deserve dignity."

Professor Ahdar says the intention of assisting someone to commit suicide is a serious offence that can lead to a penalty of up to 14 years imprisonment.

“That section of the law is going to be repealed or nullified when this act comes into effect.

“The coercion around people, and the pressure they put on themselves, what can remove a patient's thought from subjecting to it? There’s no part there to protect patients from feeling pressured.”

Ahdar believes over time this act could get broadened with input from organisations such as the human rights movement or whoever sees fit.

“The elderly are very much in the gun. And the most vulnerable are the poor, the handicapped and people with disabilities, the mentally ill and depressed,” he says.

National candidate Alfred Ngaro condemns the act saying it sets a dangerous precedent.

He says New Zealand holds one of the highest rates of youth suicide and more importantly sends out a very bad message.

“When we say in one hand certain type of suicide are okay, but another type is not. This bill is unsafe, uncaring and  unkind.”

New Zealand’s suicide rate is at its lowest in three years according to the annual provisional suicide statistics.

Anglican priest Father Peni Silikiwale describes euthanasia as a pathway to increasing the suicide rate. 

“I see this bill as a lure to suicide. We are trying to prevent suicide but this bill is trying to legalize end of life. What are we telling people who find themselves in these situations?”

Father Line Folaumoela from the Tongan Catholic Church likens the End of Life Choice Bill bill to politicising life.

“When we walk into church and religion, it is not a democracy system. The Church works on the principle that we are accountable to someone higher.”

Father Line offers this reminder to voters: "Remember the dignity of a human person. We’re not a rubbish dump to be filled up with all sorts of rubbish and drugs and pretend they’re good for us.”

Treasuring Older Adults is an Otahuhu-based provider that advocates on behalf of Pacific retirees and senior citizens.

Its Chief Executive Officer Malia Hamani says to grow old and enjoy ones children and their children is a privilege.

She says it’s understandable, some may find older people are a burden.

"But they’ve contributed so much to their society and family. Some are as old as 90 and should be given the space of love and understanding when they can no longer remember their name."

Hamani says her vote will be a no and believes it will be a sad day for New Zealand, if the act is approved by voters.

Health practitioners are allowed to opt out of participating in any part of the process of euthanasia. 

But Doctor Ethan (not his real name) describes the act as polarising.

“When I studied to become a doctor, I was always trained to promote and prolong life as long as I can. I was never taught to take a life.”

Perhaps the only thing we can do right now is wait and see, he says.

Doctor Beth ( not her real name) says this is sad news for doctors, however, they cannot do much.

“We can give doses of medicine, knowing it will affect patients' health in the long run. But it’s with the intention to alleviate pain. When you fully comprehend, your job is to give a lethal dose to a patient to die, it’s a different story.”

The Act includes a number of steps that aim to check whether a person's decision about assisted dying is freely made, including requiring that the doctor does all of the following things. The doctor must:

  • regularly discuss the choice with the person
  • make sure the person understands their other options for end-of-life care
  • make sure the person knows they can change their mind at any time
  • talk with other health practitioners who are in regular contact with the person
  • talks, with the person's permission, with members of their family.

The End of Life Choice Act 2019 has been passed by Parliament.  But it will only come into law if more than half of those who vote  support it in the referendum. 

If it does, the new Act will come into force 12 months after the referendum.

For more information on the End of Life Choice Bill visit https://www.referendums.govt.n...