Stuff co.nz 21 June 2014
Changing the way doctors certify deaths could expose significant numbers of hidden voluntary euthanasia cases among the elderly, the chief coroner says.
As elderly patients are nursed to death, physicians or relatives could mercifully, but illegally, hasten their death and escape without conviction, Judge Neil MacLean said.
In most circumstances, under current legislation, only one doctor has to sign off a death certificate and they can do so without even viewing the deceased.
However, it would be impossible for the doctor to know if an elderly patient in palliative care, who has co-morbidities, had committed suicide by morphine overdose or had been assisted to die by a physician or relative, MacLean said. “Short of doing an autopsy on everybody, we would never know.”
In these cases, often the patients would be having their medical treatment, such as food, fluids and antibiotics, withdrawn and they would be kept comfortable with constant pain relief.
“The difference between giving someone enough pain-killing drugs to ease their pain and then going to the next stage of upping the dose to deliberately bring their death forward a week or a month is a very fine line,” MacLean said.