The key priority must be to improve the provision of high quality palliative care and practical support. This should be available in all areas of New Zealand. The highest quality of pain control and palliative medicine should be given priority in medical training so that every New Zealander can benefit.
To legalise assisted suicide (euthanasia) would place large numbers of vulnerable people at risk – in particular those who are depressed, elderly, sick, disabled, those experiencing chronic illness, limited access to good medical care, and those who feel themselves to be under emotional or financial pressure to request early death.
Furthermore, any law change would undermine the well-established legal, medical and social principles that people should not be helped to kill themselves and that doctors should not intentionally end life. Maintaining the current laws protects all New Zealanders equally.
We need to apply the precautionary principle: the higher the risk – the higher the burden of proof on those proposing legislation. The risk of abuse cannot be eliminated. Legalising assisted suicide (euthanasia) is a recipe for abuse. So-called ‘safeguards’ are an illusion because they are unable to prevent the potential for coercion and abuse.
Older New Zealanders are not a problem to be rid of — they’re a generation to be honoured and cared for. Elder Abuse has become a significant problem in New Zealand. We cannot ignore the possibility that dependent elderly people may be coerced into assisted suicide (euthanasia). We cannot put older New Zealanders at risk by creating new paths to elder abuse, potentially resulting in a ‘duty to die’. Assisted suicide (euthanasia) poses a threat to the equality of persons.
Patients, even those without a terminal illness, may come to feel euthanasia would be “the right thing to do”, they have “had a good innings”, and they do not want to be a “burden” to their nearest and dearest. It won’t be about the ‘right to die’ but the ‘duty to die’. A recent documentary in Belgium when euthanasia is allowed featured a doctor killing a healthy young woman who was struggling purely with a mental illness.
Those concerned about the rights of people with disabilities are right to be concerned. A disability rights group in NZ said “There are endless ways of telling disabled people time and time again that their life has no value.”
Any change in the law to allow assisted suicide (euthanasia) would be unnecessary, dangerous and contrary to the common good.
Patients facing death have a fundamental human right – a right to receive the very best palliative care, love and support that we can give to alleviate the ‘intolerable suffering’ that they fear. This is real death with dignity – surrounded and supported by loved ones, rather than a right to try and preempt the ‘uncertainty’ and timing of the end. Assisting suicide is not the answer.