In an oral submission to the Health Select Committee this week, three members of the InterChurch Bioethics Council (ICBC) presented a submission to oppose legalising assisted suicide or euthanasia in Aotearoa New Zealand.
ICBC members Rev Dr Graham O’Brien (Anglican, Nelson), Dr Helen Bichan (Presbyterian, Porirua) and Mr Filo Tu (Methodist, Wellington) argued that assisted suicide and euthanasia are not widely accepted or practised, for good reason.
As well as grey areas over who qualifies for such deaths, they say, there are too many social and cultural side effects not apparent when euthanasia laws first come into play.
The ICBC also highlights that Māori and Pacific voices have been notably absent in public conversations over assisted suicide, raising questions whether the debate so far has accurately reflected this country’s cultural diversity on these issues.
The submission also flags:
1. The limits of claiming assisted dying as a personal ‘right’. The ICBC propose that an individual choice to die does not exist in a vacuum. The ICBC reminds Kiwis that no person is free of social responsibility for others who may suffer as a result of their choice to die.
2. Overseas experience indicates that assisted suicide promotes suicide by normalising it.
3. Euthanasia can change the doctor-patient relationship and the responsibility of doctors to always promote life.
4. Overseas examples show that legislation has proven ineffective in ringfencing those people who can select physician-assisted suicide.
5. Compassionate care should be the focus of end of life resources, they argue, especially with an aging and ailing population, where assisted suicides could become an economically appealing solution.
6. Palliative carers and hospices that offer holistic care for the end of life should be prioritized for attention and support, over law changes to enable the choice of death.
The submission cites the Netherlands, where assisted suicide has been legal since 2002. There, the legal categories of “unbearable suffering” that qualify people for self-selected death have inched wider over time.
As Professor Theo Boer, Professor of Ethics at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands is quoted in the submission, “the very existence of a euthanasia law turns assisted suicide from a last resort into a normal procedure – don’t make our mistake”
The ICBC submission points out that although the majority of assisted suicides are chosen by terminally ill patients, a recent Dutch euthanasia case concerned a 24 year-old sexual abuse victim diagnosed with “incurable post-traumatic stress disorder.”
In May this year a NZ Herald article about the Dutch 24 year-old noted that “Whereas just two people had themselves euthanised in the country in 2010 due to an "insufferable" mental illness, 56 people did so last year.”
The InterChurch Bioethics Council’s oral submission is available in full here.