Billboards across New Zealand urging Kiwis to question whether the introduction of assisted suicide legislation would be safe have been vandalised by activists.
A major advertising campaign, launched by grassroots campaign group VoteSafe.nz, has seen hundreds of signs put up across the country in prominent and high profile locations.
However, a number of those signs have now either been stolen or vandalised.
A hoarding in Glenfield has now been stolen multiple times while others have been targeted with spray paint. Each time, the billboards were up for a maximum of 48 hours before being vandalised again – likely overnight.
VoteSafe.nz campaign manager, Henoch Kloosterboer, told 1 News that while he was disappointed with the damage, he wasn’t surprised.
“We are hoping that the signs will encourage people to be fully informed before they cast their vote in this binding referendum,” Mr Kloosterboer said.
“We’re passionate about health and wellbeing, and leaving a better, safer New Zealand for future generations. Our goal is to debunk misinformation and to help Kiwis make a truly informed vote when it comes to this binding referendum.”
‘Actions speak louder than words’
Responding to the vandalism, National MP Simon O’Connor went further and said: “Just remember when reading this, that those attacking these billboards are the same people who will say to you that there will be no coercion, no pressure, no bullying, no pushing of their agenda on to the sick, disabled, or elderly.”
He added: “Yeah, right – their actions speak far louder than words.”
First country in the world to put euthanasia to a referendum
New Zealand will become the first country in the world to put euthanasia to a binding public vote, after lawmakers approved a bill laying out what the country’s assisted suicide regime would be last year.
The End of Life Choice Act passed narrowly by 69 votes to 51, ending years of parliamentary debate on assisted suicide following two recent defeats.
The drastic change in law, which will allow assisted dying or euthanasia if certain eligibility criteria are met, will come into effect if the people of New Zealand approve it in a referendum ahead of the country’s 2020 election, which is currently due to take place between 3 – 17 October.
Legal risk lawyers and healthcare professionals have expressed deep concern with the proposed legislation and its lack of safeguards.
These include, no assessment to check individuals aren’t being coerced into assisted dying or euthanasia, no mental health checks and concerns about pressure to choose death due to lack of options and a possible lack of access to good palliative care.
In addition, both the World Medical Association and New Zealand Medical Association are opposed to euthanasia and assisted suicide. Over 1,660 New Zealand doctors have come together to form the ‘Doctors Say No’ movement opposing a law change in New Zealand.
In their open letter to New Zealanders, they urge Kiwis to “leave doctors to focus on saving lives and providing real care to the dying.”
Hospice New Zealand, which provides end of life palliative care, also opposes and disagrees with the intent of the Act.
The group is particularly concerned that individuals with a terminal illness may feel pressured to choose death.
There has also been very vocal opposition to the proposed change in law.
A record 39,000 public submissions were made while lawmakers were considering the matter, with 90% of submitters opposed to it.
A number of individuals have also come forward to explain why they oppose assisted suicide and euthanasia.
‘Lack of support’
Claire Freeman, who was involved in a car accident causing her to become tetraplegic, has spoken out forcefully against the assisted suicide.
During her recuperation in hospital, Claire realised “being offered assisted suicide instead of suicide support was disturbing.”
She added: “I had been told ‘if I was in your position, with your disability, I wouldn’t want to live’ by the very health professionals who are there to help suicide survivors… I realised my biggest problem had been my mindset and a lack of proper support.”
Woman with terminal cancer wants her vote against assisted suicide to count
Vicki Walsh was told in June 2011 her brain cancer diagnosis was terminal and she only had 12 to 14 months to live.
However, now aged 53, Walsh has had nine more years of life since.
Revealing to Newshub why she’s against a change in legislation, Vicki said those additional years of life may not have happened if the choice of assisted dying had been available because she would’ve taken it.
“Obviously euthanasia wasn’t an option, but I had a go at killing myself. So had euthanasia been an option then, it is probably one I would have taken, not realising I was actually depressed,” she said.
Up until then, she had always believed people should have the choice of assisted dying, saying it was, ‘My body, my choice’. But after her suicide attempt, her views changed.
Now, she is enjoying life with her family and hopes to live long enough to have her say against assisted dying.
“I don’t want to rob my children that one smile or one kiss… I’m hoping, really hoping, that I will get my vote in and make my vote count,” she said.
‘This law is not safe’
Dr Huhana Hickey, a human rights lawyer with Multiple sclerosis, says: “I don’t believe this law is safe for the disability community, for the Māori community or for anyone who has a risk factor in their lives.”