Euthanasia by whose choice?

Features Sue Devereux4 May 2012 With another ‘end of life choice’ bill poised to enter the parliamentary debating chamber, the Salvation Army warns that people at the end of their…


Sue Devereux
4 May 2012

With another ‘end of life choice’ bill poised to enter the parliamentary debating chamber, the Salvation Army warns that people at the end of their lives may feel pressure to choose an ‘early exit’.

Labour health spokesperson Maryan Street is to introduce a private members’ bill to legalise voluntary euthanasia and/or physician-assisted suicide.

NZ First MP Peter Brown’s Death with Dignity Bill was defeated by three votes in 2003 and Maryan Street aims to lobby the 31 MPs who participated in the earlier debate.

Meanwhile prime minister John Key told the Dominion Post on April 21 euthanasia is not on the government’s agenda for the current term and, ‘Any moves to change the legislation around euthanasia, abortion or allowing same-sex couples to adopt would likely be a conscience vote, not a Government vote.’

The right to refuse medical treatment is not euthanasia and is legal because it is enshrined in the Bill of Rights Act. But active euthanasia – aiding, abetting or in any way assisting suicide – is punishable by the courts.

Last year the New Zealand Catholic Bishops wrote that ‘dying well’ was as important as reaching our potential at school and at work, or finding happiness and fulfillment within our families and with our friends. ‘The work of dying well often involves the healing and/or deepening of relationships.’

In the Nathaniel Report, November 2011, the bishops wrote of the distinction between a doctor killing a patient as opposed to a patient dying from an illness.
‘It is one thing to withhold or withdraw extraordinary methods of keeping a person alive when it is no longer sensible to do so; it is another thing to do something, or omit to do something for the purpose of terminating a person’s life.’

In a statement last month the chair of the Salvation Army’s Moral and Social Issues Council, Major Stevenson, said euthanasia and assisted suicide are morally wrong regardless of illness, age or disability. He does not accept the view that euthanasia is ‘death with dignity’. There are two important misconceptions around euthanasia: that death is usually preceded by serious pain and that modern medicine seeks to prolong the dying process for as long as possible.

‘Society’s task is not to eliminate those who suffer, but to find better ways of dealing with their suffering,’ Major Stevenson says.

The Salvation Army believes it is important to communicate by all means to the sick, the elderly and the dying that they are worthy of respect, they are loved, and that they will not be abandoned. Full palliative care should be available to anyone with a terminal illness.

‘A mature society can learn more about itself and the importance of family and friendship by journeying with those who are dying no matter how difficult this journey may become,’ Major Stevenson says. ‘The dying days of an ill person can be extremely hard on family and friends, but healing, forgiveness and the celebration of life and love also occur in such times.’

Debate around voluntary euthanasia needed to consider not only the straightforward but also the worst-case scenarios, he said.
‘Removing legal liability from health professionals and family, as Ms Street is signalling her bill would do, could put undue pressure on these individuals to meet the expectations raised by such a change. By offering some the choice to end their life, even with the best of intentions, we may also be removing a choice from others who may consequently feel pressured to choose an “early exit”.’

Such a choice could be influenced by the convenience of bringing together family members with busy schedules and limited financial means for a final farewell, or by the desire to more quickly wind up an estate.

It could also be influenced by views around the expense of continuing medical or palliative treatment.

Two meetings on this issue with Paul Russell, the director of HOPE, an Australian coalition of groups aiming to prevent the legalisation of euthanasia, will be held in Wellington. ‘Looking at the issues’ is scheduled for Tuesday May 8, 7.30, in St Thomas More parish hall, Worcester St, Wilton.

And afternoon tea with Paul – a conversation with older people – is on Thursday May 10, 2.30pm, in Our Lady of the Rosary Parish Hall, Waiwhetu Rd, Lower Hutt. A small koha would be appreciated.

For more information about the meetings contact Sue Devereux on (04) 496 1744 or For more about the issues visit