WelCom September 2017: The recently released and long-awaited Health Select Committee Report into euthanasia and assisted suicide has revealed 80 per cent of the more than 21,000 submissions received from members of the public and organisations are opposed to euthanasia and assisted suicide. It expresses significant public concerns around the unintended consequences of any such legislation while also making the extremely important point that the ‘issue is clearly very complicated’.
It is extremely telling that certain members of the Committee remain unconvinced the overseas models studied provide adequate protection for vulnerable people. In this way the Report does not give the sorts of assurances needed by the New Zealand Parliament to change the current law. Anyone who reads the Report in full with an open mind cannot help but be left with huge concerns about the ability of any proposed law to supply adequate safeguards; the sort of safeguards that would work in the real world.
At last year’s hearing before the Select Committee, Cardinal John Dew reiterated the risk that legalising euthanasia would pose for too many when he stated: ‘We are concerned some people will choose euthanasia because they feel they’re a financial or physical or emotional burden on their families and carers.’ This concern is borne out in the Report that clearly identifies, in multiple places, the desire to ‘not become reliant on others’ and ‘not wishing to be a burden’ is what motivates many to make euthanasia and assisted suicide available.
This reinforces the view, argued by the New Zealand Catholic Bishops, that a law change would alter the way society views the disabled and those who are dying, as well as the way we care for these people. Of even greater concern is that these persons would come to view their own place in society in a much more tentative way.
The Report also highlights the lack of agreement on the criteria for euthanasia and assisted suicide, with some submitters thinking it would or should be even broader than terminal illness or an irreversible condition. This illustrates the difficulties of setting clearly-defined boundaries that could later be defended.
The Committee rightly commends palliative care services while emphasising the need for a better understanding of the efficacy of palliative care by the New Zealand public. It also encourages the Government to investigate improving access to these services. It thereby follows that, while there are gaps in access to palliative care services around New Zealand, it is a fallacy to promote euthanasia or assisted suicide as a valid choice – it would become a ‘Hobson’s choice’ for many.
The takeaway message from the Report is clear. In the absence of clear and irrefutable evidence that the most vulnerable would be adequately protected then, on such an issue when the stakes are life and death and when a mistake is permanent, the precautionary principle must apply. It is not up to opponents to prove beyond doubt that a law would be dangerous. Rather, it is up to proponents of euthanasia and assisted suicide to prove beyond doubt that it would be safe and this Report clearly does not deliver the required level of assurance.
Dr John Kleinsman
Dr John Kleinsman is Director of the Nathaniel Centre.
The Health Select Committee Report is on the Parliament website via: tinyurl.com/y9aebx6t