Bedside gatherings at Canadian euthanasia deaths are normally an adults-only affair. Of course we’re not privy to most of them, but occasionally a journalist describes the last moments of an elderly man or woman in a magazine feature. Sometimes there’s a party, glasses of champagne, hilarity — until the doctor arrives. The friends and relatives gather around the bed while the doctor administers a lethal injection.
In fact, most of these deaths are of people well over 65. Very few are of an age to be leaving youngsters behind. It is their children or grown grandchildren who are with them in their last moments.
What about people with young children? One experienced MAiD doctor suggests that young children will benefit from becoming involved.
In a blog entry at a University of British Columbia site, Dr Susan Woolhouse, who has been involved in some 70 “assisted deaths”, says “instinct told me that involving children in the MAID process of their loved one was possibly one of the most important and therapeutic experiences for a child. My past experiences during my palliative care rotations reassured me that children could benefit from bearing witness to a loved one’s death. Why would MAID be any different?”
She gives some tips about how to explain the process of dying to young children:
Assuming that children are given honest, compassionate and non-judgmental information about MAID, there is no reason to think that witnessing a medically assisted death cannot be integrate as a normal part of the end of life journey for their loved one. If the adults surrounding them normalize MAID, so will the children.
“These conversations can easily be had with children as young as 4,” she says.
Dr Woolhouse estimates that between 6 and 7 percent of MAiD deaths are of people under 55. As the numbers grow, “this will result in more children being impacted by the assisted death of a loved one.”
This is how she would explain euthanasia to a child:
“In Canada, when someone has an illness that will cause their body to die, they can wait for this to happen or they can ask a doctor help. The doctor or nurse uses a medication that stops the body from working and causes the body to die. This is done in a way that isn’t painful …
“I am going to give your [loved one] medication over a period of about ten minutes. This medication will make her very look very tired and then she will very quickly go into a coma. This means that she will no longer be able to hear, see or feel any pain. You might hear strange breathing sounds, however these do not cause her any pain. Her skin will get colder and maybe even change colour. She will stop moving her body. Her heart will eventually stop beating and this means that her body has died. When a body dies, it can no longer see, feel pain, or hear. It can’t ever be fixed.”
I wonder if a child will find this explanation convincing. The doctor will not be around to answer her questions as she becomes a teenager, a young adult, and a parent. One researcher found that, years afterwards, some children still described the death of a pet as “the worst day of their lives.” How much worse will it feel to remember the day that your mother or father was put down?
Dr Woolhouse’s brief essay leaves some questions up in the air. The obvious question is “where is Dad now?” She can’t offer the child the comfort of an afterlife. Dad isn’t anywhere anymore; he’s just dead.
In her description of her hypothetical patient’s last hours, it’s clear that he is not suffering unbearably, at least at that moment. Why, the child is bound to ask, did Dad want to leave me? Why did he choose to die and leave me an orphan?
But Dr Woolhouse is right about one thing: if you want to normalise euthanasia, what better marketing device could there be than photos of little kids watching her give a lethal injection?
This article by Michael Cook was originally published on MercatorNet under a Creative Commons licence. The original article can be found here. You may republish it or translate it free of charge with attribution for non-commercial purposes following these guidelines.
There is a cluster of highly dangerous changes for our society currently being pushed through Parliament: euthanasia, unlimited abortion, and the legalisation of recreational marijuana.
These initiatives will affect us all, and all generations to come. These matters are life and death issues. They transcend mere party politics. It is time the New Zealand public (including the Christian public) arouse themselves from their sleepiness and apathy.
The recent majority (69/51) vote by MPs to legalise euthanasia in New Zealand, subject to a referendum at the next election, is very disappointing. It appears that many MPs (along with much of the media and the general public) simply do not understand the extremely serious implications of legalising euthanasia in this country. For doctors and nurse practitioners to be authorised to actively end patients’ lives, even on request, is to cross a critical threshold. Euthanasia is an entirely different thing than ceasing treatment or turning off an artificial life-support machine when there is zero chance of survival. MPs have no moral right to legislate to allow anyone to kill.
The task of doctors has always been to help heal their patients, not to dispatch them. The inevitable outcomes of allowing “assisted dying” include a lessened societal respect for life, growing pressures to opt for death, and the undermining of doctor-patient trust, of palliative care, and of hospices. All this was very ably pointed out, in the outstanding speeches of some MPs.
The euthanasia debate is not over yet. In 11 months (or less) there will be a Referendum. Given widespread public misunderstanding, excellent anti-euthanasia information will be needed to be vigorously disseminated.
The very liberal abortion bill presently before Parliament is even more unethical. In the so-called Abortion Law Reform Bill none of those unborn babies whose killing is to be freely allowed are recognised as human, none are recognised as having any human rights, and none will be given any choice at all. How liberal and compassionate is that? Again, over 90% of public submissions are opposed to the Bill. But many MPs do not appear to be listening, and the select committee process is shamefully selective.
On a happier note, six of us Kiwis have just come back from the General Assembly of the World Evangelical Alliance, in Indonesia. New Zealand Christian Network is one of national evangelical alliances in 130 countries all over the world, and 92 of those were represented at the Assembly. It was an inspiring time, and great to become better connected to that global community. We met delegates from some very hard places. We all came back determined to see NZCN flourish and grow, and to work for an increasingly effective and united Gospel witness in Aotearoa New Zealand.
The New Zealand Parliament legalised euthanasia this week by 69 votes to 51, pending the outcome of a referendum next year. On paper, The End of Life Choice Act 2017 looks restrictive. Its architect, libertarian MP David Seymour, claims it permits “one of the most conservative assisted dying regimes in the world.”
Opponents say it is full of loopholes, which would make it like every other piece of euthanasia legislation in the world. Indications are that, once such a law is in place, nobody much cares about how it is working.
As National MP Chris Penk said at the final debate: “The question is not whether some people will die in the way the bill allows, but whether many people could die in a way that the law does not allow.” That is what has happened in the Netherlands and Belgium.
Hospices won’t be exempt
The Act allows assisted suicide by a lethal dose of drugs, either self-administered or administered by a doctor or a nurse practitioner. This option would be available to New Zealand citizens or permanent residents aged 18 and over who have been diagnosed as terminally ill and having less than six months to live.
Originally, the Act also covered people with “grievous and irremediable” conditions, which could apply to depressed and disabled persons, but this was dropped by Seymour to garner more support from MPs.
Conscience protection for doctors and nurses was added. They are not obliged to participate in any part of the assisted dying process or suffer any penalties for opting out. However, an attending practitioner with a conscientious objection must tell a patient that they have a right to ask the group administering the scheme for the name and contact details of a replacement doctor or nurse.
An amendment drafted in consultation with Hospice New Zealand that would allow organisations to opt out without risking losing public funding was voted down.
Other efforts to address weak provisions concerning safeguards and accountability were shut down in successive debates by members impatient to get the bill passed.
The beautiful-young-woman-with-a-tumour factor
In the end, Seymour got 69 of the 120-member Parliament on his side. However, to get the eight votes of the New Zealand First Party members (led by Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters) he and supporting MPs had to accept the party’s demand that the Act go to a referendum. It will be one of at least two proposals the public can vote on alongside next year’s general election, the other being the legalisation of recreational cannabis.
It has taken four attempts, starting in 1995, to get euthanasia across the line in the New Zealand Parliament. Its success this time is in keeping with social trends such as secularisation, but also owes a lot to the advocacy of Wellington lawyer Lecretia Seales, who died of brain cancer in 2015. As an attractive, clever 42-year-old tragically facing death, she has done for euthanasia in this country what another beautiful young woman with a brain tumour, Brittany Maynard, did for the cause in California.
Ms Seales, who had worked for the liberal-minded Law Commission, applied to the New Zealand High Court for a declaration that she had a “right” to assisted suicide under the NZ Bill of Rights Act. She failed at court, but succeeded in the public domain where the support of her husband and family and influential figures such as former Law Commission chief Sir Geoffrey Palmer – not to mention massive and sympathetic media attention – emboldened politicians to have another go at legalising euthanasia. Seales died peacefully of natural causes in June 2015 and in October Seymour lodged his member’s bill. In December that year the New Zealand Herald declared Lecretia Seales “New Zealander of the Year”.
Tens of thousands of opposing public submissions binned
The Seymour bill was drawn from the ballot in June 2017 and had its first reading in December. It then went to a select committee of MPs for study and to receive public submissions. More than 39,000 submissions were received, 90 percent opposing it. Over four months touring the country the committee heard over 2000 oral submissions, of which 85 percent were opposed. These included the majority of medical associations and individual doctors and nurses who addressed the committee.
In addition, a grassroots effort saw published a number of excellent video testimonies from people who had faced a terminal diagnosis or lived with a severe disability, as well as professional commentary on the issue. One of the people appearing in these videos, Clare Freeman, who became tetraplegic at 17 and attempted suicide, addressed hundreds of opponents in front of Parliament on Wednesday as MPs prepared for the final vote. She recounted how a psychiatrist suggested that she could get help to end her life overseas.
All of this has counted for very little with the majority of our political representatives. The public opinion they fear is the referendum looming at the election next year and the debate that will precede it. As NZ Herald writer Claire Trevett commented today: “Few MPs will want to take the lead in that debate – for few will want to be defined by it and have it overshadow their campaign.” That is probably truer of those supporting the legislation than those against it.
The “misinformation” spectre
Supporters have already raised the spectre of “misinformation” to ward off inconvenient publicity about euthanasia and the End of Life Choice Act itself. In fact, Minister of Justice Andrew Little (a supporter) is so concerned that the public may be misinformed and misled that he has talked about setting up a unit in the Ministry of Truth – sorry, Justice – to monitor advertising campaigns. This applies also to the cannabis referendum.
Following an interview with Little, however, the NZ Herald reports, “Teams in the Justice Ministry will prepare neutral, factual information for each referendum and make that publicly available, but they will not be tasked with calling out misinformation.” The Minister expects things to get “ugly” and expects the worst of social media, but has indicated that complaints to the Advertising Standards Authority are the way to go for disgruntled members of the public. He will simply do what he can to “call out misinformation.”
It would be foolish to think that the public is already well informed (and could only be misled by further debate), although politicians and the media regularly invoke opinion polls that show a level of public support for euthanasia of around 70 percent. If the public is generally ignorant, what is the value of a poll that asks a superficial question such as, “Parliament is considering passing a euthanasia law that would allow terminally ill patients to die with the help and approval of their doctors. Would you support it?”
Of course people should be allowed to die. Of course doctors should do what they can to ease their symptoms and reassure them as they die. Aren’t they, don’t they already? Yes. But the euthanasia movement fosters the deceitful idea that people are being kept alive against their will by extraordinary means.
Three-quarters of Kiwis don’t know what ‘choices’ the Act allows
A poll commissioned by Euthanasia-Free NZ and released early this week showed that, despite the legislation being around for four years, the great majority of the public do not know what “choices” the End of Life Choice Act would legalise.
70% thought it would make it legal for people to choose to not be resuscitated, when people can already ask for such a request to be added to their medical file.
75% thought that the Bill made euthanasia available to terminally ill people only as a last resort, after all treatments have been tried to control their pain.
“However, the Bill does not require an eligible person to have tried any pain relief or palliative care before requesting a lethal dose, or to have a consultation with a palliative care or pain specialist to find out what options are available to them,” says Euthanasia-Free NZ.
Like the Act’s supporters. this group is concerned about the referendum. “We doubt that another year would be long enough to allow the public to become adequately informed about the Bill’s content, amid contentious debates on cannabis and the general election,” says its executive officer Renee Joubert. “We are concerned that a referendum result may not reflect the public’s true sentiments.”
There seems, indeed, a real possibility that the cannabis referendum, being a more grass-roots issue (so to speak) and therefore given more media time, will eclipse that of euthanasia. The best we can hope for in any case is a change of government.
World Medical Association reaffirms its opposition
Jurisdictions which permit assisted suicide or euthanasia suck all the oxygen out of media coverage of this topic. To put the issue in perspective, assisted suicide or euthanasia is only legal in Canada, Belgium, the Netherlands, Switzerland and a handful of American states. Nearly everywhere else, doctors have repudiated it.
As a reminder of this, the World Medical Association has reaffirmed its long-standing policy of opposition to euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide. At its annual Assembly in Tbilisi, Georgia, the WMA adopted a revised Declaration on Euthanasia and Physician-Assisted Suicide. It states:
“The WMA reiterates its strong commitment to the principles of medical ethics and that utmost respect has to be maintained for human life. Therefore, the WMA is firmly opposed to euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide.”
Furthermore, the WMA strongly supports conscientious objection. Its statement says: “No physician should be forced to participate in euthanasia or assisted suicide, nor should any physician be obliged to make referral decisions to this end.”
On the other hand, the WMA also supports the right to refuse burdensome treatment. “The physician who respects the basic right of the patient to decline medical treatment does not act unethically in forgoing or withholding unwanted care, even if respecting such a wish results in the death of the patient,” it states.
WMA Chair Frank Ulrich Montgomery, a German physician, summed up the feeling of the medical profession on a global level: ‘Having held consultative conferences involving every continent in the world, we believe that this revised wording is in accord with the views of most physicians worldwide.’
End-of-life care has been at the centre of heated debates within the WMA. Last year the Canadian and Dutch delegations to the WMA’s assembly failed in a bid to change the organisation’s stand to neutrality, rather than opposition. As a result, the Canadians pulled out of the WMA. There is sure to be on-going pressure for the WMA to change its position.
So it’s significant that earlier this year, the WMA’s official journal published a strong rebuttal of arguments for neutrality. It stressed that the proportion of doctors who back the Canadian approach was minuscule:
“Only a small minority of physicians support E&PAS. The vast majority of doctors around the world wish only to foster the will to live and to cope with illness and suffering, not to facilitate acts of suicide or to create ambiguity around what constitutes a medical treatment. We must remember that the four regional WMA symposia demonstrated that most doctors would never be willing to participate in euthanasia.”
The WMA statement coincided with another statement, this time from a religious angle. Representatives of the three Abrahamic religions – Christians, Jews, Muslims – signed a declaration in the Vatican repudiating euthanasia and assisted suicide. It is an extraordinary demonstration of ethical unity on a deeply controversial topic by theologically separate groups. Their declaration says:
We oppose any form of euthanasia – that is the direct, deliberate and intentional act of taking life – as well as physician assisted suicide – that is the direct, deliberate and intentional support of committing suicide – because they fundamentally contradict the inalienable value of human life, and therefore are inherently and consequentially morally and religiously wrong, and should be forbidden without exceptions.
The statement also stresses the importance of palliative care and of trying to ensure that patients do not feel useless at the end of their lives.
The signatories included Vatican officials, Avraham Steinberg, co-chair of Israel’s National Council of Bioethics, Samsul Anwar, chairman of the Central Committee of the Indonesian Muhammadiyah and Orthodox clergy.
Michael Cook is editor of MercatorNet
This article by Michael Cook was originally published on MercatorNet under a Creative Commons licence. The original article can be found here.
Do you believe the church in New Zealand needs to be built up, to work together better, and to have greater influence? Do you believe the Christian community needs to speak better into society, with both grace and truth? Do you believe we all need to guard and nurture the spiritual unity we have in Jesus?
If so, please help us get the NEW ZEALAND CHRISTIAN NETWORK to be better known. Help us get many more Christian people and churches connected with us, receiving our newsletter, following on FB, using the website, making contact, partnering with us.
The NZCN exists to gather (to help bring evangelical/charismatic/Pentecostal NZ Christians together in closer fellowship and a common Gospel cause), to build (to help resource, strengthen and build up the church in New Zealand and increase its constructive influence on society), and to speak (to speak into both church and society, with grace and truth).
Four issues currently facing the government and the citizens of Aotearoa New Zealand are outlined below.
We appreciate you doing whatever you can to strengthen NZCN’s connections with your church, friends and family.
Dr Stuart Lange (interim National Director)
Major issues we need to be informed about, to pray about, and to talk to our MP about
The critical second reading of this Bill, which would legalise euthanasia and assisted suicide in New Zealand, is likely to take place very soon, possibly on June 20.
1. The End of Life Choice Bill
An overwhelming 91.8% of the submissions to the Justice Committee were opposed to the Bill (and 93.5% of submissions from medical personnel), the report of the Justice Committee identified major problems with the Bill, but there remains a risk that a majority of MPs may vote for the Bill.
Please be praying, and please seriously consider clearly (but courteously) communicating your concerns to your MP – and the same applies to the issues which follow.
2. Proposed abortion ‘reform
The Law Commission has considered proposals for changing the law around abortion, to reduce the stigma of abortion, to increase the freedom of women to make their own decisions, and to increase the accessibility of abortion. It is proposed to take abortion out of the Crimes Act, and that performing an abortion be regarded as simply a health procedure. The inclusion of abortion within the Crimes Act recognises that abortion involves bringing about the death of human foetus. Making abortion merely a health procedure implies that unborn babies are merely organic material, with no human rights.
At present, performing an abortion is illegal unless it falls within certain exceptions: abortion is legally permissible up to 20 weeks’ gestation if authorised by two certifying consultants, if there is (a) ‘serious danger to the life, or physical or mental health’ of the mother (including pregnancy as a result of sexual violation), or (b) serious foetal abnormality, or (c) if the pregnancy results from incest, or (d) the mother is ‘severely subnormal’ (has significant mental, physical or intellectual impairment). After 20 weeks’ gestation, abortion must be necessary to save the life of the woman or to prevent serious permanent injury to her physical or mental health.
All three proposed models involve further liberalisation of New Zealand’s abortion law, and would remove the requirement for two certifying consultants. Model A would make abortion available to any woman (in consultation with her doctor) for any reason, at any stage of pregnancy. Model B would make abortion available to any woman, subject to a statutory test: ‘If the health practitioner who intends to perform the abortion reasonably agrees the abortion is appropriate in all the circumstances, having regard to the woman’s physical and mental health and wellbeing’. Model C would apply Model A (abortion for any reason, at any stage, with no statutory test) to pregnancies up to 22 weeks’ gestation, and would apply Model B (statutory test and decision made by the doctor who intends to perform the abortion) to pregnancies after 22 weeks’ gestation.
None of the three proposals appear to demonstrate regard for the rights of unborn children. Surely a just and humane society, along with being concerned for the health and wellbeing of women, should be eager to protect those who are among its most vulnerable children, the unborn. All abortion ends a life, for whatever reason, but late-term abortion is especially abhorrent. Abortion can also often involve long-term consequences for the mothers. If abortion is to become a normal health procedure, there are also questions around whether doctors and nurses would be free on conscientious grounds to decline to participate in abortions. Does New Zealand really want or need these changes?
3. Proposals for ‘hate speech’ legislation
This is an issue full of complications and dangers.
While it is already a crime to incite hatred and violence against anyone (and rightly so), and there is no place for the sort of hatred which lies behind racism and terrorism, it could become a significant threat to freedoms of religion and of speech if ‘hate speech’ became defined or interpreted as expressing religious or moral views which some groups might complain are offensive and ‘hateful’ and thus a criminal offence.
Could it one day become illegal, for example, to publicly proclaim that Christ is the way, the truth and the life (something which may offend some atheists or members of another faith), or to admit the belief that God intended marriage as a union of one man and one woman? Could expressing such views lead to dismissal from one’s job or profession? Would it be illegal to quote certain parts of the Bible? Would such laws be applied equally: would atheists and members of minority faiths be equally at risk of breaking the law, or would Christians be subject to particular restrictions?
The recent dismissal in Australia of rugby star Israel Folau indicates how freedoms of religion and expression (whatever we may think about how wisely those rights were exercised) are now under threat in the public sphere.
4. The legalisation of marijuana
Making marijuana legal and freely available would have major negative effects on New Zealand society, not least in terms of health, mental health, road safety, and the safety of the workplace.
Why would we even consider this move? Have we not learned from the huge costs to society tobacco use and alcohol abuse? Do we really need another such harmful industry, peddling its products and enjoying the profits while downplaying the very significant social and health costs?