End of Life Choice Bill
Assisted suicide and euthanasia for almost anyone over 18
The current Health Select Committee investigation is not about the End of Life Choice Bill or any other specific legislation. However, it is helpful to keep in mind that voluntary euthanasia advocates do not want legislation only for the terminally ill. They want virtually everyone over 18 to be eligible. The End of Life Choice Bill has similar eligibility criteria to the End of Life Choice Bill (2012) and the End of Life Options bill (which was published in 2015 but was not submitted to the ballot).
The End of Life Choice Bill 2015
In October David Seymour, ACT MP for Epsom, submitted the End of Life Choice Bill to the member’s ballot. It’s now waiting to be randomly drawn from the ballot so Parliament can vote on it. The next ballot may be as early as February 2016.
The End of Life Choice Bill proposes that any New Zealand citizen or permanent resident 18 years or older will be eligible for “assisted dying” if he or she suffers from:
- a terminal illness or other medical condition that is likely to end his or her life within 6 months; or
- a grievous and irremediable medical condition; and
- is in an advanced state of irreversible decline in capability
- experiences unbearable suffering that cannot be relieved in a manner that he or she considers tolerable; and
- has the ability to understand the nature of assisted dying; and the consequences for him or her of assisted dying
The bill effectively proposes assisted suicide and euthanasia on demand for anyone over 18. Here are some reasons why:
- There is no clear definition of “terminal illness”. It can be interpreted to include any condition that is life-shortening or life-threatening. There is no bright line between terminal conditions and chronic conditions. Some chronic conditions can become life-threatening in a matter of minutes, for example diabetes, asthma, allergies and high blood pressure. There is also no bright line between terminal illness and disabilities, because many disabilities are life-shortening and involve complications that can become life-threatening.
- It’s impossible for doctors to accurately predict how long a person is expected to live, especially six months out. There have been cases of people who were expected to die within hours or days, but they recovered and lived for months or years. Diagnosis can also be wrong, despite a doctor’s best intentions. Diagnosis and prognosis are not based on certainty, but on probability (likelihood based on other cases). There is no guarantee that an individual’s disease will progress the same way as others’ have.
- Depression can also be regarded as a terminal condition, because it could lead to death (suicide), or to losing the will to live and fight a disease.
- Any condition can become “irremediable” if a person exercises their right to refuse further treatment. A depressed person would not have to ask for assisted suicide based on their depression. He or she would only need to refuse treatment for another condition in order to qualify.
- The phrase “irremediable medical condition” is vague enough to cause almost anyone to be eligible. These could include disabilities; chronic conditions such as arthritis, asthma or gluten intolerance; mental illness such as anxiety or depression; ageing-related conditions such as wrinkles, or the deterioration of eyesight or mobility; scarring; and even skin pigmentation such as liver spots or freckles…
- Words such as “grievous”, “unbearable suffering” and “intolerable” are entirely subjective (up to the individual to decide). If a patient would use any of these words to describe their condition, the doctor would not be able to argue.
- “An advanced state of irreversible decline in capability” is just a wordy way of saying “disability” or “ageing”. The Bill doesn’t explain what is meant by “capability”. Could a person qualify who has become less able to run, walk, read, or enjoy life?
- The Bill doesn’t mention depression. Even if it did specifically exclude depression, depressed people could still access death instead of treatment under such legislation. Depression can be hidden easily, even from doctors. Depression is often misdiagnosed or dismissed. Even subclinical depression (not severe enough to be diagnosed) can still have an effect on people’s decision making capabilities. See Depression and Terminal Illness.