New Zealand’s assisted suicide Bill condemned at UN Human Rights Council meeting

New Zealand’s proposed assisted suicide legislation has been condemned as “deeply alarming” during a UN Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva.

Legal advocacy group ADF International delivered a statement addressing the dangers and threats it would pose to the elderly and vulnerable during an interactive dialogue with the Independent Expert on the Enjoyment of all Human Rights by Older Persons.

It comes as Kiwis prepare to decide on whether or not the End of Life Choice Act of 2019, which would introduce assisted suicide and euthanasia to New Zealand, should become law when they head to the polls for their general election on Saturday 17 October 2020.

‘No logical stopping point’

ADF International Legal Officer Giorgio Mazzoli said: “A fair and just society cares for its most vulnerable. The potential impact that the legalization of euthanasia and assisted suicide via the End of Life Choice Act of 2019 would have on older persons in New Zealand is deeply alarming.

“While the eligibility requirements are supposedly strict, the experience of other countries, where the practice is permitted, shows that once the door is open to intentional killing, there is no logical stopping point.

“If human dignity becomes linked to a person’s state of health or self-determination, it loses its inherent and objective character.

“Legalizing euthanasia and assisted suicide will further increase social pressure on the elderly, who may be led to believe that their lives are ‘completed’ and ‘no longer worth living.’”

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.

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 the pressure to choose death due to lack of options and a possible lack of access to good palliative care.

Both the World Medical Association and New Zealand Medical Association are opposed to euthanasia and assisted suicide. Additionally, over 1,700 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.

Vocal opposition

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.

Many 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.

In a short documentary for #DefendNZ, Claire revealed that after attempting suicide more than once health professionals “encouraged [her] to explore 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.”

Activists vandalise billboard campaign

Despite the opposition, 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.

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.”

Student midwife forced to suspend studies over pro-life views

A midwifery student who was forced to suspend her studies over her pro-life views believes she was unfairly targeted and has asked for a formal apology from the University of Nottingham.

Julia Rynkiewicz faced expulsion from her degree after lecturers raised concerns about her involvement with the Nottingham Students for Life (NSFL) society.

In what is believed to be the first case of its kind, the final year midwifery student was suspended from her course and became the subject of an almost four month long investigation.

During this difficult time, Julia was also banned from completing her placement at a local hospital.

As a result of the investigation against her, Julia will now graduate a year later than her fellow students but has suffered undue “stress” and a lack of financial support during the ordeal.

Last week, university officials U-turned on their decision and dismissed the case against her.

However, Julia believes that she has been unfairly targeted over her pro-life views and has raised questions over the significant procedural failures by the University.

She has issued a formal complaint against the Russell Group university and has asked for an apology “as a matter of justice” so that “they realise they have done wrong and will change it so that no one else has to go through what I have”.

If the University doesn’t apologise, Julia could carry her case through to the ombudsman and then on to court.

The undergraduate told The Telegraph: “I’m willing to take this as far as necessary. I think it’s important to remember that being pro-life isn’t incompatible with being a midwife.”

She added: “It all felt a bit ridiculous and I have had to put my life on hold for a year and that’s been frustrating.

“I would quite like an apology for everything they have put me through… I suppose that they have realised they have done wrong and [I hope they] will change it so no one else has to go through what I have.

“I’m going to be applying for compensation for this. I’m willing to take this as far as necessary but I suppose we will see how this goes. I think this case says a lot about freedom of speech especially regarding pro-life students.”

Laurence Wilkinson, legal counsel at ADF International, a legal organisation, which supported Julia, said: “No student should have to go through this kind of daunting process.

“Julia’s treatment, in this case, represents a very chilling prospect for freedom of speech on campus. Of all places, university is where students should be free to debate and explore ideas – even those with which they disagree.

“In this case, Julia’s involvement with an affiliated pro-life society led to her fitness to practise being investigated. The now dismissed allegations were initially withheld from Julia, then drip-fed, and then changed before she had the chance to respond.”

Julia served as president of “Nottingham Students for Life”, a pro-life student society that was initially denied affiliation by Nottingham University’s Students’ Union.

However, following the threat of legal action, the decision was overturned in July 2019.

In what is becoming a pattern at universities across the UK, many pro-life groups have been hindered in their ability to speak freely and enjoy the same benefits as other student societies.

Student representative bodies at Aberdeen University, Glasgow University, Nottingham University, and at Strathclyde University have all had to reverse their decisions to refuse affiliation to pro-life groups after the groups raised the prospect of legal proceedings.

In 2018, the UK’s Joint Committee on Human Rights released a report on Freedom of Speech in Universities, which criticised growing restrictions on free speech and the new phenomenon of ‘no-platforming’ policies on UK campuses and the exclusion of pro-life views.

A spokesperson for Right to Life UK Catherine Robinson said:

“Universities were once considered a key forum in which ideas and opinions could be discussed and argued, however, more and more we are seeing attempts to censor the pro-life view from being discussed on campus.

“This behaviour sets a dangerous precedent for freedom of speech and expression more generally.”

The growth in pro-life student groups reflects the shifting public attitude towards abortion in the UK. A 2017 Savanta ComRes poll revealed that 72% of the UK public oppose introducing further extreme abortion legislation to the UK.

Pharmacist taken to court over refusal to sell ‘morning-after pill’ has conscience rights protected by German court

A pharmacist who was taken to court because he did not wish to sell the ‘morning-after pill’ has had his conscience rights upheld by a German court. 

Andreas K. owned and operated a pharmacy in Berlin which neither stocked nor sold the ‘morning-after pill’. 

However, not long before his retirement in 2018, Andreas was reported to the Berlin Pharmacists’ Chamber over his desire to not sell the pill.

The chamber, which has a compulsory membership for every pharmacist in the state, then proceeded to initiate legal proceedings against Andreas at the Administrative Court of Berlin. 

In an encouraging ruling, the German court upheld the pharmacists right to act in accordance with his conscience. 

According to ADF International, who provided legal support to Andreas’ lawyer, the German court stated that the pharmacist had not neglected his professional duty and had the right to conscientiously object in such a situation. 

Felix Böllmann, Legal Counsel for ADF International said: “This is an encouraging decision by the court. It is a clear statement that the pharmacist had the right to act in line with his conscience and did not neglect his professional duty in doing so. The right to freedom of conscience must include the right to act accordingly. A free society relies upon its citizens acting conscientiously.”

The Pharmacists’ Chamber has appealed the decision, which is thought to be the first of its kind in Germany. 

In 2015, Spain’s Constitutional Court ruled in favour of a pharmacy that was fined €3,000 for opting not to sell the ‘morning-after pill’ despite a legal requirement to do so. 

According to the Telegraph, the court drew a parallel between the morning-after pill and abortion. The court ruled in its sentence that in this case, legally obligating the vendor to sell the product clashed “with the concept advocated by [the pharmacist] regarding the right to life.”