WelCom News
A newspaper for the Wellington and Palmerston North Catholic Dioceses

Bishops concern at End of Life Bill

WelCom April 2018:

Amanda Gregan

In their submission last month, the New Zealand Catholic Bishops expressed their deep concerns about David Seymour’s ‘End of Life Choice’ Bill, currently before the Justice Select Committee.

‘The Catholic Church’s long involvement in the hospice movement and pastoral care of the dying and their families provides us with strong credentials to speak in societal debates about dying and death. Our history of supporting the vulnerable and the elders stretches back to the signing of the Tiriti o Waitangi where Bishop Pompallier was confidante to many Māori rangatira. Today, too many of our people work in rest homes, hospices and hospitals, accompanying the dying and their families and whānau daily.’

The Bishops state the Bill offers an impoverished view of health care, with no requirements for doctors to have any expertise or experience in palliative care or mental health or experience or expertise in the patient’s condition. Palliative care and hospice services are of a high standard in New Zealand and they can be expanded to give patients the choice of quality end of life care.

‘The Bill takes a dim or even cynical view of the medical profession by seeing doctors as men and women who complete set tasks in a prescribed or identical manner for each situation. It seems that the Bill, in fact, seeks to bypass the professional input and analysis of doctors. It restricts the conscience rights of medical practitioners that protect robust professional judgement and prevent doctors from duress.’

The Bishops also point out that, in determining eligibility for assisted suicide, the Bill makes no room for an assessment of a patient’s inherent vulnerability or any rigorous assessment of whether or not the patient is being subjected to pressure.

‘International experience repeatedly confirms that, despite claims to the contrary, legalisation leads to normalisation and the expansion of eligibility, either legislatively or in practice.’

The Bishops argue the Bill provides a pathway to early death, which relies on patients making subjective self-assessments of their suffering that arises from physical, mental disability, chronic illness (including mental illness) or terminal illness. They state the experience in countries like Belgium have shown an ongoing expansion of parameters surrounding eligibility.

‘The first Labour Government of this nation saw the need for “care from the cradle to the grave”. In a contemporary manner, may compassion, not fear and threat, continue to stand at the heart of
our nation.’

The final report from the Justice Select Committee is due on 27 September 2018.

To see the NZCBC submission in full, go online to: bit.ly/2p85iMD

Amanda Gregan is Communications Adviser, New Zealand Catholic Bishops – Te Huinga o ngā Pīhopa Katorika o Aotearoa.