Euthanasia referendum: Should it be a health priority for New Zealand at present?

Stuff co.nz 19 September 2020
Family First Comment: Important questions:
“If the referendum is passed, money and time will be put into establishing a bureaucracy to deliver aid in dying, and doctors will have to provide the service. This represents an opportunity cost, as these resources cannot be spent on other aspects of the health system. To comply with the law there is a lot to do. There are committees to be formed and policies to be written. All doctors will need to decide if they want to take part. All practices and hospitals will have to respond to someone who seeks assisted dying”

OPINION: Discussion of the euthanasia referendum has mostly been around the ethical question of whether euthanasia should be allowed. There has been little discussion about whether this is a priority for action now.

If the referendum is passed, money and time will be put into establishing a bureaucracy to deliver aid in dying, and doctors will have to provide the service. This represents an opportunity cost, as these resources cannot be spent on other aspects of the health system.

To comply with the law there is a lot to do. There are committees to be formed and policies to be written. All doctors will need to decide if they want to take part. All practices and hospitals will have to respond to someone who seeks assisted dying and that is likely to lead to a lot of discussion and debate.

Hospices have already said they will not do this but what about all the other providers? Whilst the financial costs will be balanced by the money saved in someone dying earlier and not requiring some pension or some care costs, the personnel resource and the time spent setting systems up needed to do all this is still problematic.

What is the size of the potential quality of life benefit?
If the referendum passes, we don’t know how many people would seek aid in dying. A reasonable comparison would be with Oregon.

Oregon has a population of 4.2 million (New Zealand 5 million) and has had a Death with Dignity Act in force for the past 22 years. Their Act is similar to ours. Their experience is that patients are older, on average 74 years (range 33-98 years).

Just over 50 per cent of patients had a university degree and 96 per cent of patients were white. In 2019 a total of 188 people were assisted to die, 0.51 per cent of total deaths.

During the first five years of the Act around 25 people a year (around 0.08% of total deaths) were assisted to die. Whilst there are differences between Oregon and New Zealand, we are alike enough for this to give us some idea of what might happen here.

If this level of demand is reflected in New Zealand, then it will benefit a few people from a group who can afford the costs and who already get significant benefit from our health system.
– Ben Gray is a senior lecturer in Primary Health Care and General Practice at University of Otago, Wellington.
READ MORE: https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/health/euthanasia-debate/300107980/euthanasia-referendum-should-it-be-a-health-priority-for-new-zealand-at-present?cid=app-iPhone

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