New Zealand to vote in referendum on euthanasia

New Zealand is to become the first country in the world to put euthanasia to a binding public vote after lawmakers passed a bill laying out what the country’s assisted suicide regime would be.

The bill passed narrowly on Wednesday by 69 votes to 51, ending years of parliamentary debate on the topic.

The drastic change in law will come into effect if the people of New Zealand approve it in a referendum at the country’s 2020 election.

The proposed change in law goes much further than the Oregon style assisted suicide legislation that has been proposed and rejected by the UK Parliament. Most recently in 2015, MPs voted by 330 votes to 118 to reject a bill that proposed to introduce an Oregon style law to the UK.

There has 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.

As MPs voted, campaigners carried placards stating “assist us to live not die” and “euthanasia is not the solution” outside parliament.

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.”

Wendi Wicks, a long-time advocate for the rights of disabled people, told the Guardian that the proposed law is dangerous for everyone in New Zealand; particularly the disabled.

Outlining her concerns she said: “[The bill] doesn’t protect against coercion, competency or consent abuses. It doesn’t allow for a cooling-down period like Oregon or Victoria have. Safeguards are vague and lax. Worse still, there’s a sense that a certain level of wrongful death is acceptable.

She added: “It’s to be hoped that the population at large can do a sound job, but that depends on the quality and range of information they get. MPs had a huge range of sound, factual information. But judging from their voting record, many clearly disregarded heaps of it.”

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has publicly stated her support for euthanasia reform and reluctantly voted for the referendum saying it was the only way of advancing the legislation.

Following her pledge to make widespread changes to New Zealand’s abortion law, a parliamentary bill has been introduced which will in practice permit abortion up to birth for babies prenatally diagnosed with the Down’s syndrome. It has prompted widespread concern from parents about the harmful impact this Bill will have on people with Down’s syndrome.

Two previous attempts to allow for legal assisted suicide in New Zealand have failed to get through Parliament.

Parliamentary report calling for child euthanasia to be available for children under 12 tabled in Netherlands

Assisted suicide advocates in three different countries that have already legalised euthanasia have this week sought to expand the regime.

Children under the age of twelve, dementia patients and those who have a “fulfilled life” are all targeted by those who wish to expand the so-called ‘right to die’.  

The Netherlands

The Netherlands was the first country in the world to legalise euthanasia when its Termination of Life on Request and Assisted Suicide (Review Procedures) Act came into effect in 2002. 

Under the country’s current law, euthanasia for children aged between 1 and 12 years old is prohibited. However, non-voluntary euthanasia is available for Dutch babies up to 12 months. Children between 12 and 16 can be euthanised with the approval of their parents.

A coalition of three Dutch teaching hospitals has undertaken a survey of 38 doctors which they claim shows 84% of paediatricians in the country want euthanasia for children between 1 and 12 years old. A report on the survey was recently tabled in the lower house of the Dutch parliament by the country’s Minister for Health, Welfare and Sports.

Recently, The Telegraph and the Daily Mail reported that a Dutch family held down their mother, as she fought against being euthanized by her doctor.

The vulnerable patient, who suffered from dementia, had allegedly expressed a wish to be euthanised but also indicated that she wanted to determine the right time.

In the days leading up to the killing, the patient stated her desire to live, saying “I don’t want to die” several times. Despite this, the doctor slipped a sedative into her coffee to relax her before administering the lethal injection. However, the patient awoke and resisted the doctor, causing the physician to ask the family for help in holding down the patient down while he finished the procedure.

The doctor has since been acquitted of any wrongdoing by a Dutch court that ruled “all requirements of the euthanasia legislation” had been met.

In 2018 the number of official euthanasia cases in the Netherlands was 6,126 which was 4 percent of total deaths in the Netherlands. 144 cases of people in the early stages of dementia.

The Netherlands was the first country in the world to legalise euthanasia for patients experiencing “unbearable suffering with no prospect of improvement”, in 2002. Since then, euthanasia and assisted suicide, in which one individual facilitates the suicide of another, have been introduced by Belgium and Canada.

Canada

In Canada, where euthanasia has only been legal for three years, there is continued pressure to expand its scope to remove what has been identified as an important safeguard for people: consent at the time the drugs are administered.

Canada’s euthanasia regime involves a doctor administering the drugs, and at this point, a patient must give consent directly before the procedure.

However, assisted suicide advocates are hoping that the law will change to allow dementia patients to provide an advanced request for euthanasia “perhaps even years prior to death.” 

They argue that if you are deemed to lack the capacity to choose a prior request should be sufficient to administer euthanasia. This is even in circumstances where the patients have since changed their mind and don’t want to end their life.

The Fourth Interim Report on Medical Assistance in Dying revealed there have been at least 6,749 medically assisted deaths since Canada legalised euthanasia, in June 2016.

In September, a Québec court struck down a safeguard in Canada’s euthanasia law requiring that a person be terminally ill to qualify for death by lethal injection.

In Ontario, a hospital has faced criticism for advertising euthanasia in an urgent care waiting room.

An alarming study has found that the legalisation of assisted suicide could save the Canadian health care system more than $138 million per year.

According  to the Alzheimer’s Society of Canada, over 500,000 Canadians live  with  dementia, with 25,000 new cases diagnosed each year.  It currently costs more than $10 billion per year to care for those in Canada’s health system.  

Belgium

Belgium legalised euthanasia in 2002, and since then the practise has even been extended to children. The current law allows euthanasia if the patient is in a state of constant physical or psychological pain.

There is now a renewed push for euthanasia to be available for those who are healthy but have decided they have a “fulfilled life”

The President of Belgium’s Liberal Party, Gwendolyn Rutten, told the Brussels Times: “We must be able to choose the right to die not only when we are suffering in an intolerable way but also when our lives are fulfilled and we request to do it explicitly, freely, independently and firmly.”

In 2018 there was a total of 2,357 reported assisted suicides, up from 2,309 in the previous year. Since 2010, there has been a 247% increase in just 8 years.

The country is currently considering euthanising a physically healthy 23-year-old over her mental health problem. Three Belgium doctors are facing trial for certifying that a heartbroken woman was autistic, so she could be euthanised.

Right To Life UK spokesperson Catherine Robinson said:

“You can learn a lot from paying close attention to countries and other places where assisted suicide and euthanasia has been legalised. What we see is that there is a significant increase year-on-year in the number of people being euthanised or helped to commit suicide by their doctors. This is compounded by the fact that once assisted suicide has been legalised for one category of people, it is often only a matter of time before it is extended to others.

“In 2002, euthanasia was legalised for adults in Belgium who met certain criteria, the main one being that they must be in constant and unbearable physical or psychological pain. Only 24 people were euthanised that year. Now, it is legal to euthanise those with mental illnesses and children of any age, if they are terminally ill.

“The evidence from other jurisdictions demonstrates that the so-called ‘right to die’ may become the ‘duty to die’. Feelings of being a burden were cited in 55% of Oregon and 56% of Washington assisted-suicide requests in 2017.

“This is especially the case when families and health budgets are under financial pressure, which makes the Canadian study which found that the legalisation of assisted suicide could save the health care system more than $138 million per year, so alarming.

“Legalising assisted suicide would inevitably lead to pressure on vulnerable people to choose the quicker, cheaper option of death over palliative care.”The UK has rejected numerous attempts to legalise assisted suicide. The most recent assisted suicide bill, in 2015, was defeated by 330 votes to 118, a majority of 212 votes.

Doctors call out “misleading” and “wildly inaccurate” assisted suicide activist video

Senior leaders at a national charity for end of life care have criticised a recent video from an assisted suicide lobby group labelling it “irresponsible”, “misleading” and “wildly inaccurate”.

Dignity in Dying released its video, The Inescapable Truth, as part of its ongoing efforts to legalise assisted suicide in the UK.

The distressing video features a mother talking to her son about his grandfather’s death. She tells her son that his grandad “moved to a special place called a hospice”, intercut with flashbacks portraying his death as agonising and traumatic.

Carole Walford and Tracey Bleakley, Chief Clinical Officer and Chief Executive of Hospice UK respectively,  said the film was “misleading and irresponsible campaigning.”

In their open letter to Dignity in Dying they call for the “sensationalist and inaccurate video” to be taken down. 

They say that it “could scare people away from the support they so desperately need… care that alleviates suffering, listens, communicates, and through skilled evidence based interventions meets the personal, physical, emotional and spiritual needs.”

Dignity in Dying claim the video is “a realistic portrayal” of those experiencing end of life care, and have so far not taken down the video. In a new report, Dignity in Dying, formerly known as the Voluntary Euthanasia Society, claim 17 people in the UK die in such a manner every day.  

A claim that has been disputed by healthcare professionals who lined up on Twitter to criticise the film.

An NHS palliative care doctor said: “The very last thing the debate on assisted dying needs is deeply misleading and wildly inaccurate portrayals of dying in a hospice.”

An NHS project manager for cancer alliance said: 

“The inescapable truth? Whose truth? Are you so desperate for support that you are reduced to #fakenews? This is definitely not my experience of my parents’ deaths, one in a hospice & one in an acute hospital. This is the most terrible exploitation of peoples’ fears. Shameful.”

A palliative care nurse tweeted: “This is a low act! I’ve nursed many many people dying in hospitals and hospice settings. NEVER, have I witnessed such a distressing scene. You are sensationalising and stigmatising death!”

“This is not truth,” added GP Dr Andrew Green, who has been a GP for 40 years.

Parliamentary efforts to allow doctors to help patients kill themselves have been consistently rejected in recent years, including by 330 votes to 118 in 2015. 

Spokesperson for Right To Life UK, Catherine Robinson said:

“Leading doctors at Hospice UK and elsewhere are correct to call out Dignity in Dying for their misleading, irresponsible scaremongering. A recent study into end-of-life care ranked the UK as the best in the world, praising the quality and availability of services.”

“Our world class end-of-life care is becoming increasingly important for a society which values the lives of people with terminal or life-limiting conditions.”

“Legalising assisted suicide would inevitably lead to pressure on vulnerable people to choose the quicker, cheaper option of death over end of life care.”

(Image credit: Dignity in Dying video screen shot)

Tetraplegic model speaks out against euthanasia after once planning to end her life

A deadly double standard – Claire’s Story #DefendNZ Documentary 2 (Youtube: screenshot)

As The End of Life Choice Bill is currently being debated in New Zealand, a woman, Claire Freeman, involved in a car accident causing her to become tetraplegic, has spoken out forcefully against the Bill.

The Bill permits assisted suicide in cases where an adult has a “terminal illness that is likely to end the person’s life within 6 months”; or suffers from “a grievous and irremediable medical condition; and is in an advanced state of irreversible decline in capability; and experiences unbearable suffering that cannot be relieved in a manner that he or she the person considers tolerable”.

Claire argues that this Bill would have been dangerous for people like her given her (former) “mindset and lack of proper support” and had this Bill passed only a few years ago, she would have been eligible to end her life.

Although formerly pro-assisted suicide, her experience as a tetraplegic has led her to change her mind admitting that “[she] didn’t really understand the implications of having a ‘choice’ [for assisted suicide].”

Claire attempted suicide more than once and her health professionals “encouraged [her] to explore assisted suicide”. She had intended to travel to Switzerland to kill herself but was unable to do so due to a disastrous operation on her neck, which made her condition even worse.

During her recuperation in hospital “[she] realised that being offered assisted suicide instead of suicide support was disturbing.”

“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. No one ever asked about my toxic mindset and frantic way of living.”

“I realised my biggest problem had been my mindset and a lack of proper support”

Claire said that people like her are not being given a voice in this debate in New Zealand.

“I don’t want to see a vulnerable person talking to a health professional who assumes their life is of little value due to their disability or illness.”

“The reality is this: If the End of Life Choice Bill, in its current form, were law four years ago, I’d be dead. This isn’t about religion or politics; it’s about trying to do the right thing and highlight the dangers of this bill.”

Clare McCarthy of Right To Life UK commented:

“The attitude of medical professionals towards people with disabilities in this case is, sadly,  all too familiar. Just recently in the UK, a mother was offered an abortion 10 times because her daughter was diagnosed as having a disability in the womb.”

“These professionals acted in a remarkably unprofessional manner by encouraging Claire to kill herself, and, as she rightly notes, she would not be alive today had the law been different. We can see clearly that the attitudes of the medical professionals and the lack of proper support were a key motivating factor behind Claire’s original decision to take her life, which, fortunately, she was unable to enact.”

“As her experience shows, laws prohibiting assisted suicide and euthanasia protect people like Claire, and they should not be removed.”