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.”

Latin America asked for help during the coronavirus pandemic, the UN gave them abortion

A coalition of 434 human rights organisations have backed an International Manifesto for the Right to Life in response to abortion provision sections in the United Nations Population Fund’s (UNFPA) Global Humanitarian Response Plan: COVID-19. 

The plan calls for increased funding and prioritisation of abortion services globally, including countries where abortion is not legal and the lives of unborn babies are protected. 

The pro-life manifesto issued in response calls for the international community to “focus on public policies based on human dignity, and for effectively putting an end to any attempt to interfere with or attack the sovereignty of our countries, in particular coming from the U.N. and its principal agencies.”

‘Shakedown’

In April, Ecuador’s Ministry of Foreign Relations and Human Mobility sent a $46.4 million budget request to the UNFPA. Pro-life groups in Equador have said that the acceptance of the aide request was conditional on providing access to abortion.

A representative from Ecuador for the Family, Martha Villafuerte, stated, “It is unacceptable to try to take advantage of the situation to slip in through the back door a crime that the Constitution rejects.”

According to Villafuerte, “The U.N. …intends to shakedown the country by offering it more than 46 million dollars, of which 3 million would go directly to ‘sensitize and to train health personnel on safe, legal abortion and post-abortion care  when this is expressly prohibited by law in Ecuador.”

In June, the UNFPA highlighted Latin America as the new epicenter of the pandemic, noting that these countries constituted nearly 40% of all deaths daily from COVID-19 from May to June. 

In addition, they recognised the weak and fragmented state of healthcare systems in Latin America and the difficulties they face in addressing COVID-19.

However, Ecaudor is not the only country facing increased pressure to change their abortion policies as a result of increased financial support during the global pandemic. 

International pledge to prioritise abortion during pandemic

In a bid to expand abortion services across South and Central America, 59 countries pledged to prioritise abortion services in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Earlier this year, 59 member states of the United Nations, including the United Kingdom and some commonwealth countries, promised to ensure continued access and funding to abortion abortion services, which they have classified as “essential”, in a joint press release.

Ecuador was among the press release signees, despite its current legislation.

Following the press release, it was revealed the UK Government had given an extra £10 million to the UN Population Fund targeted at developing nations, including a number of African countries, which includes spending on abortion.

Last month, the Swedish Government’s International Development Agency (SIDA) joined the UK in funding global abortion when it announced it will give 20 million Swedish krona (£1.67 million) to DKT International, an organisation which promotes and funds abortion around the world.

The significant grant given to DKT International from SIDA will provide manual vacuum aspiration equipment to perform suction abortions in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Additionally, the group will distribute medical abortion drugs across Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and Mozambique.

UN official criticises ‘liberal eugenics’ of disability abortion

A United Nations human rights expert has brought fresh attention to some of the many negative consequences of disability-selective abortion and assisted suicide in a wide-ranging report on disability rights to the Human Rights Council on people with disabilities.

Special rapporteur Catalina Devandas-Aguilar is a Costa Rican lawyer who has spina bifida and has three children with the condition.

Unfortunately, Catalina Devandas Aguilar’s report has been overlooked because of the current focus on the coronavirus pandemic. 

Beginning of life: Prenatal screening

In the report, Catalina shares how technological advances in prenatal screening has resulted in a steady rise of prospective parents choosing to abort children like her own. 

She revealed how “in some high-income countries, high uptake rates for screening have already been associated with significant reductions in the number of children born with some congenital disabilities.”

Evidence of this can be seen across the UK, which recently reported a 150% rise in disability-selective abortions relating to cleft lip. Additionally, figures show 90% of babies with Down’s syndrome are aborted and estimates show the figure is around 80% for babies with spina bifida.

Catalina, who herself has spina bifida, suggests the use of prenatal screening is a cost-saving measure – as it is often cheaper to abort a baby than offer life-affirming treatment. She says: “Genetic screening must never be considered to be a cost-effective alternative to providing the highest attainable standard of care or service for persons with disabilities.”

In 2013, it was revealed a staggering £30 million had been spent in the UK on prenatally screening babies for Down’s syndrome. In comparison, less than £2 million was spent on research that would improve the lives of those who survive the eugenic screening process. 

Catalina rightly points out that such practices “may reinforce and socially validate the message that persons with disabilities ought not to have been born,” a concern shared by disability rights activists.

“Legislative frameworks that extend the time frame for a lawful abortion or,

exceptionally, permit abortion in the presence of fetal impairment aggravate this message,” she adds. 

“In addition, as the consequence is a smaller number of persons with disabilities being born, some fear a reduction in disability advocacy and social support for persons with disabilities.” 

End of life: Assisted suicide

Catalina is even stronger on the issue of assisted suicide saying “an impairment should never be a reason for assisted dying to be permitted.”

The Costa Rican lawyer, highlights how legalising assisted suicide will place at risk the lives of persons with disabilities.

“If assisted dying is made available for all persons with a health condition or impairment, regardless of whether they are terminally ill or not, a social assumption might follow that it is better to be dead than to live with a disability,” she says. 

“Generally, when life-ending interventions are normalized outside the end stage of terminal illness, persons with disabilities and older people may increasingly feel the need to end their lives.”

The report states how those with disabilities are vulnerable to explicit and implicit pressures to undergo an assisted suicide ‘procedure’, including expectations from family members, financial pressures, cultural messages and even coercion.

During life: ‘Futile treatment’?

In addition to highlighting the discrimination disabled people face at the beginning of life and at the end of life, Catalina reveals how disabled people are discriminated during their life.

“It has been reported that physicians may exert pressure on critically ill patients and their families to withhold or withdraw life-sustaining treatment based on the belief that further treatment would be futile, non-beneficial or potentially inappropriate, particularly for patients with severe impairments.

“That subjective assessment, based on the physician’s opinion and values, includes an assumption on the resulting quality of life of the individual and thus involves a risk that it is influenced by ableist views of living with a disability.”

She adds: “Similarly, cost-effectiveness considerations may also result in the denial of life-sustaining treatments to some persons with disabilities.” 

Catalina concludes her report by suggesting countries who are member states of the UN should: “Conduct a comprehensive legislative and policy review to abolish all laws, regulations, customs and practices that discriminate against persons with disabilities, including in the context of medical or scientific procedures, research and experimentation.”

Before the publication of Catalina’s report, a campaign was launched in the UK to stop abortion being available up to birth for disabilities such as cleft lip, club foot and Down’s syndrome. 

Heidi Crowter, a 24-year-old woman who has Down’s syndrome, has launched a landmark case against the UK Government over the current discriminatory abortion law that singles out babies with disabilities allowing abortion right through to birth.

Cheryl Bilsborrow, whose two-year-old son Hector has Down’s syndrome, has also joined Heidi in bringing forward the case.

The UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities’ concluding observations on the initial report of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland made a key recommendation that the UK change its abortion law on disability so that it does not single out babies with disabilities. However, the Government has decided to ignore this recommendation.

Additionally, a 2013 Parliamentary Inquiry into Abortion for Disability found the vast majority of those who gave evidence believed allowing abortion up to birth on the grounds of disability is discriminatory, contrary to the spirit of the Equality Act 2010 and that it affects wider public attitudes towards discrimination. 

The Inquiry recommended Parliament reviews the question of allowing abortion on the grounds of disability and should consider repealing section 1(1)(d) of the Abortion Act which allows for it.

Disabled peer Lord Shinkwin has previously had a Bill in the House of Lords that would have repealed section 1(1)(d) of the Abortion Act – the Bill was undefeated but unfortunately ran out of time. Lord Shinkwin’s Bill was supported by Disability Rights UK.