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Euthanasia coming soon?

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End of Life Choice Act: Who is eligible, who makes the decisions?

Radio NZ:

At this year’s general election, the public will also be asked to cast a referendum vote on the End of Life Choice Act 2019.

Voters will be asked to vote yes or no to this question: Do you support the End of Life Choice Act 2019 coming into force?

The two options to reply will be:

“Yes, I support the End of Life Choice Act 2019 coming into force.”

“No, I do not support the End of Life Choice Act 2019 coming into force.”

Here is an explainer on the Act, who is eligible and how we got here.

What is Euthanasia?

The origin of the word euthanasia is derived from Greek and means “good death” or “to die well, without pain”.

There are many different terms used to describe euthanasia, including assisted dying, assisted suicide, medically-assisted dying, death with dignity and more.

Voluntary euthanasia is when someone who has requested help to die receives that help.

What is the current law?

Euthanasia is considered a crime under section 179 of the Crimes Act 1961.

The law describes it as “aiding and abetting” suicide and it is punishable by up to 14 years imprisonment.

It is already legal for someone to request that they are not resuscitated, should they suffer a medical event. It is also already legal for life support to be switched off.

What is the End of Life Choice Act 2019?

The Act gives people with a terminal illness (providing they meet all of the remaining criteria) the option of lawfully requesting help to die.

In the Act, ‘assisted dying’ means: a person’s doctor or nurse practitioner giving them medication to relieve their suffering by bringing on death; or the taking of medication by the person to relieve their suffering by bringing on death.

Parliament has passed the End of Life Choice Act 2019, but it has not come into force yet.

The Act will only come into force if more than 50 percent of voters in the binding referendum vote ‘Yes’.

It will then come into force one year after the date the result of the referendum is declared.

Who would be eligible?

To be able to ask for assisted dying, a person 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 six 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

A person would not be eligible to ask for assisted dying if the only reason they give is that they are suffering from a mental disorder or mental illness, or have a disability of any kind, or are of advanced age.

Who’s able to make an informed decision about assisted dying?

Under the Act, a person is able to make an informed decision about assisted dying if they can do all of the following things:

  • Understand information about assisted dying
  • Remember information about assisted dying in order to make the decision
  • Use or weigh up information about assisted dying when making their decision
  • Communicate their decision in some way

What else is required in order to be approved for assisted dying?

If the eligibility criteria are met, there is still a requirement for two separate doctors to approve the request.

It should be noted that within the Act, a health practitioner is not allowed to initiate a discussion about assisted dying.

Once a patient initiates that discussion, their health practitioner must go through an extensive check-list with them, which is detailed in the Act.

Once the practitioner is satisfied their patient meets the criteria, a second opinion from an independent medical practitioner is needed.

If one, or both, of the practitioners, have doubts about the patient’s ability to make an informed decision, an independent psychiatrist must also make an assessment.

If any doctor feels that a person is being pressured into their decision, the process must stop.

An eligible person can also choose to change their mind and stop, or delay, the process at any time.

How did we get to the referendum?

This isn’t the first time euthanasia law has been considered.

Attempts to introduce the law were made in 1995 and in 2003. Both failed to pass.

In 2012, Labour Party List MP Maryan Street announced she was forwarding another member’s bill to the ballot box. The proposed legislation was known as the End of Life Choices Bill. She then removed it from the ballot box before the 2014 election, over fears it would become a political football. When she wasn’t re-elected, the party chose not to re-introduce it.

In 2015, ACT New Zealand MP David Seymour entered his End of Life Choice Bill into the ballot box, after the Seales v Attorney-General case found that only Parliament had the ability to address assisted dying laws.

The bill passed its first reading 76-44 in December 2017, its second reading 70-50 in June 2019, and its third reading 69-51 in November 2019.

NZ First supported the bill in exchange for a referendum.

Whether the Act comes into force, it will be determined by how the public votes at the binding referendum, held alongside the 2020 general election.

What does polling on the issue reveal?

A recent public poll, carried out by Research NZ in July shows there is a majority support for the law.

Roughly 64 percent were in favour, with 18 percent saying they were not in favour. The rest were undecided.

This is a softening in the level of support, compared with December last year. Figures at the time put 70 percent of respondents in favour of the legislation, while the number of those strongly in favour of the legislation dropped from 50 percent six months ago to 33 percent today.

Where do political parties stand?

The End of Life Choice Act was subject to a conscience vote, meaning MPs can cast a vote guided by their personal beliefs, rather than towing the party line.

But broadly in the third reading of the bill, the National Party voted 17 in favour and 38 against.

The Labour Party was 33 in favour and 13 against. All members of the remaining parties voted in favour.

The total vote was 69 members for and 51 against.

All current leaders of the parties voted in favour of the law.

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12 COMMENTS

  1. I support the legislation being passed into law and appreciate the good summation of the post.

    I did not need the referendum seeing it as an unnecessary cost given the careful consideration given by Parliament to this matter.

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  2. What we are voting on is a hollow shell of the original bill because of the horse-trading required to advance it to this point. The conditions are so onerous that there’ll be few instances when it can be used. eg. “Experience unbearable suffering that cannot be eased” & “Suffer from a terminal illness that’s likely to end their life within six months”. The undertaker will have been booked & the buzzards circling before the drawn out process begins.

    We stand, like Oliver Twist in front of our political masters & accept stale religion with watered down personal liberty. It does however, serve as a lasting reminder of the downsides of living in a rotten, God saturated society full of hocus pocus where one can’t even die without reference to some non-existent deity.

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    • Well said Nasska.

      it is a Yes from me.
      Albeit, as you said, watered down.
      Getting it across the line is a start.

      Remember the opposition to the Civil Union Bill prior to circa 2004.
      Then the gay marriage thing was passed in a jiffy. Late at night. Woosh.

      I think the Civil union bill was wise and tidied up a lot of legal weaknesses.
      Eg. live with someone for 20 years but could not make a decision about their end of life wishes and allocations.
      But the Gay marriage thing I consider unnecessary.

      In this case at least it would be in law. Despite Notional- aka the Vatican party.

      The key word is ‘Choice’
      The god botherers, plaster of paris statue worshipers, and sky fairy yodelers could stick with their semi-pagan rituals and let good people suffer in the name of two bits of crossed wood and a lifetime of self imposed fear and loathing.

      They have that choice. Let the rest of us have a choice as well.

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  3. Was at a suicide prevention / mental health meeting some years ago where the suggestion was made that people committing suicide should be prosecuted and fined to the full extent of the law. ( this is true )

    Wait and see ,a tax/ levy will be applied to make sure any relatives suffer as well.

    This is something the state has no business getting involved in.

    So a no vote from me , and for a host of other reasons as well.

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    • Prior to 1893 suicide was illegal but attempted suicide remained a crime until 1961.

      ……”In British tradition the main social forces against suicide were legal and religious sanctions. Christianity saw suicide as a sin, and there were restrictions on the burial of a person who had died by suicide. Suicide was a crime in England from the 13th century. At that time the lands and goods of people who had died by suicide were forfeited and the body was buried at a crossroads with a stake through the heart.”……
      BUT
      ……”There were only isolated examples of religious exclusion from normal burial practice, and no record of property forfeiture.”…….

      https://teara.govt.nz/en/suicide/page-6

      The halfwit who made the suggestion at the meeting you refer to was trying to drag NZ back a couple of centuries. Probably a religious nut & definitely a conservative to boot.

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  4. A No from me – as time goes if passed it will be liberalised more and more just like the abortion law has been. I have had 2 brothers and my mother die of cancer, yes I have seen the draw out process and have always said that it goes on about 2/3 weeks too long, especially for the families. My brother, in Australia, towards the end was offered, by the Doctor, an injection that would send him off to sleep after a period of time from which he would not wake up from. They accepted this and he passed away in due course. There is no reason for cancer patients to be in pain. Basically I believe the system works as it is.

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  5. Legalized killing needs careful safeguards. It has to be rort-proof, since people will always try to use it to their advantage.
    “Now, grandma. You want what is best for your family now don’t you?”

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