You may wish to use this list as an aid to making your own points in your submission.
People on both sides of the debate are eager to lessen human suffering, but the key issue is the long-term consequences of any law change for public safety. This is an issue of basic human rights (the right to life) and of social justice – in particular, protecting the vulnerable.
Good clinical care aims to eliminate the pain, not kill the patient.
We should not ask doctors, who have a duty of care, to be involved in killing their patients. It is currently illegal to kill, or to withhold the “necessaries” of life from vulnerable people.
The fact that medically-assisted suicide and euthanasia are currently illegal means maximum efforts are made to relieve pain and address all aspects of a person’s suffering. Will that still occur if the law is changed?
The trust which most people now have in the medical professions and hospitals will be seriously eroded, if doctors are authorised to actively end patients’ lives, and protected in law in doing so.
These days no-one need die in pain. Persistent requests for euthanasia are mostly related not to unrelieved pain but to a desire to be in control, a fear of being a burden or the experience of social isolation. Medically-assisted suicide/euthanasia is not the right or best response to these issues.
When seriously ill patients receive good palliative care they rarely want to end their lives.
Seriously ill patients who wish their lives to end already have the right to decline life-prolonging treatment, food and hydration, so that natural death will soon occur.
Very few people actually die in great pain, especially with good palliative care.
A great many medical prognoses and predictions of how long terminally ill people will live prove to be inaccurate. Some patients live much longer, and some recover completely.
The New Zealand Medical Association, the Society of Palliative Medical Physicians and the Palliative Care Nurses New Zealand Society all oppose any law change. Parliament and the media need to take their informed opposition much more seriously.
Section 4 of the “End of Life Choice” bill offers “assisted dying” to any New Zealand citizen (or permanent resident) aged 18 or over who has “the ability to understand…the consequences of assisted dying” and who has “a terminal illness that is likely to end his or her life within 6 months” OR “a grievous and irremediable medical condition” OR “is in an advanced state of irreversible decline in capability” OR “experiences unbearable suffering that cannot be relieved in a manner that he or she considers tolerable”. These qualifications are not limited to a terminal illness, and the other categories are loose and highly subjective. They would presumably permit medically-assisted suicide on the basis of any condition which a person considers “grievous” or not “tolerable”, e.g. incipient Alzheimer’s, chronic arthritis, physical disability, recurring depression, psychiatric disorder, or any loss of physical capacity. The person wishing to die would not need any professional medical confirmation. They would only need to declare that they considered their condition “grievous” and not “tolerable”. This would amount to state-sanction suicide/euthanasia on demand.
Legalising medically-assisted suicide/euthanasia undermines the long-standing convention against the State killing persons. It was for that reason that most countries abolished capital punishment. Changing the law would create a legal situation in which the state licenses death in advance and sanctions the death of certain of its citizens. This is ethically abhorrent.
The legalising of medically-assisted suicide, especially for irreversible and unbearable mental conditions, accepts that “some suicides are okay”. State-sanctioned suicide would help normalise the societal acceptability of suicide, and would greatly undermine efforts to reduce the existing tragedy of very high suicide rates in New Zealand, especially among youth. This would be a major inconsistency.
Suicidal thoughts are usually associated with depression. Research shows that when depression is properly treated, most people change their minds about wanting to die.
Changing the law would send a message that the lives of some are not worth living – it will steer persons towards a premature death.
Abuse of the disabled and elderly is a serious issue in our country. Legalising euthanasia will put elderly people (including those with dementia, mobility issues, and incontinence) at further risk, especially in a society where the numbers of elderly are growing and there is increasing pressure on the health budget.
It is neither rational (on grounds of equity) nor possible long-term to limit medically-assisted suicide/euthanasia to particular groups of people, or to specific conditions, or only to those aged 18 years or over. As has occurred overseas, there would be the same inevitable erosion of boundaries here in New Zealand.
Allowing euthanasia/medically assisted suicide opens the door for the disabled, sick and elderly to see themselves as an excessive financial and emotional burden. The “right to die” could in time become a “duty to die”. No legislation can protect against this.
Many assume that changing the law will simply allow the very small number of high-profile cases to proceed without legal objection. In fact, “legalisation leads to normalisation” and, as has happened overseas, will lead to greatly increased numbers dying through euthanasia.
Overseas experience (such as in Holland and Belgium) clearly shows that legalising voluntary medically-assisted suicide/euthanasia paves the way for euthanasia without request or consent.
New Zealand abolished the death penalty in part because of the danger of executing even one innocent person. Legalising medically-assisted suicide/euthanasia will inevitably lead to some people being killed when they don’t want to die.
Granting a small and vocal minority the freedom to be killed (if they so wish) will inevitably undermine the choice and/or will of many others to live.