As well as choosing a new government, October’s election gives us the opportunity to support or oppose the legalisation of euthanasia and recreational use of cannabis. Here, Ann David of the End of Life Choice Society argues for a Yes vote in the referendum on the End of Life Choice Act.
Voting in the End of Life Choice Act referendum will resonate with all of us who have been through the heart-wrenching tragedy of watching someone we love die slowly in great suffering. We may have prayed quietly or railed loudly at the injustice and cruelty, asking “Why can’t the doctor do something?” It was because the doctor was not allowed to.
We can change that at this referendum. If we vote Yes, after a year to refine practical details it will be legal for a doctor to end a patient’s suffering with life-ending medication – but only if the patient personally requests it and only if strict safeguard criteria are met.
This is a controversial issue and those who do not share our compassionate view are unfortunately spreading mistruths and misinformation about it.
It is important to know what the Act allows and prohibits. With a computer you can read neutral, factual, information from the Ministry of Justice at referendums.govt.nz Those not engaged with the technology could ask their friendly librarian to find the website for them at their local library.
Here is a summary of what the Act would require:
- The patient must meet several criteria including being diagnosed with a terminal illness likely to end their life in six months or less and being in unbearable suffering that cannot be relieved and being in “an advanced state of irreversible decline in physical capability”. All three criteria must apply.
- The patient (18 years old or over) must be mentally competent in the same way as is necessary for any other significant health decision, such as whether to accept or reject the risks of life-saving surgery.
- Two separate doctors, unknown to each other, must agree that the patient meets all eligibility criteria.
Here is what is not allowed (despite common claims by opponents):
- The patient’s doctor cannot suggest or recommend assisted dying.
- The request can only be made by the patient – not by any member of the family, or anyone else.
- Any patient’s request though an Enduring Power of Attorney, Advance Care Plan or Living Will is not valid.
- A patient is not eligible simply by reason of advanced age, disability or desire to not be a burden to others.
- If the patient loses mental competence during the application process, they become immediately ineligible.
- They also lose eligibility if doctors suspect they come any undue influence or coercion at any time.
More than 200 million people overseas can access voluntary assisted dying and research shows us that they benefit from improved and better funded palliative care. But it also shows that despite this, between 2 and 5 percent of patients suffer “severely” as they die in palliative care. That equates to as many as 250 New Zealanders every year. Palliative care has its limitations, and why should they suffer?
Parliament scrutinised every bit of this law over 2½ years before it passed. If it gets a majority of Yes votes, no more New Zealanders will die but fewer will suffer.
- What’s your view? Contribute to the debate through the ‘Comment’ box below.