• Editor

Once passed, euthanasia laws expand to include mentally ill, disabled and children

Only a tiny minority of countries have passed laws supporting euthanasia and assisted suicide, reports Stuff. But of those that do, the trend is to expand the criteria to allow disabled, mentally unwell, and children to choose suicide.



Of about 195 countries and 50 states in the US, only a handful have legalised some form of assisted dying to date. The number of jurisdictions to decriminalise both euthanasia and assisted dying is smaller still – just five.


Stuff says that the End of Life Choice Act more closely resembles similar laws in Canada and Victoria, than the more permissive approach of Belgium and the Netherlands. However, even in these jurisdictions, the safeguards against wrongful death and coercion are much greater.


For example, all countries require a stand-down period longer than the New Zealand Act would allow. Under the proposed law a person could be killed within just 72 hours of their decision.


The New Zealand Act also allows people to choose assisted suicide or euthanasia without consulting their families or friends – something again out of step with other regimes.


One trend that experts do agree on is the liberalisation of the laws over time. In the Netherlands and in Belgium, it was not originally envisaged that disabled people or mentally ill people would be eligible. However, that has changed and now the criteria has been widened to include suffering as a result of mental illness and disability.


In Belgium people have been euthanised owing to autism, anorexia, borderline personality disorder, chronic-fatigue syndrome and depression.

Similarly, in Quebec, the legal phrase, “a reasonably foreseeable natural death”, originally touted as an important safeguard, has also been removed because it was seen as discriminatory. There is also considerable pressure in Canada to include unbearable suffering from mental illness as a criterion for assisted dying.


The Netherlands and Belgium have the longest standing euthanasia and assisted suicide laws and give a strong hint about the trajectory towards loosening of the criteria.


As Stuff writes:


The Netherlands became the first nation to effectively decriminalise euthanasia in 2002.

Though voluntary euthanasia and assisted suicide remain criminal offences, under the Termination of Life on Request and Assisted Suicide Act (2001), doctors will not be prosecuted if they perform euthanasia if they meet “due care criteria”, such as where a patient’s suffering is unbearable with no prospect of improvement.


This permits physicians to perform euthanasia on anyone over the age of 12 with “unbearable suffering”, with parental consent if under 16. The person does not need to have a terminal illness.


Under the 2004 Groningen Protocol, doctors can perform “active ending of life on infants” under the age of 1 – such as for patients with spina bifida and hydrocephalus – without fear of prosecution, while New Zealand's minimum age is 18.


A patient need not be competent at the time voluntary euthanasia is carried out, providing an advance directive was completed when they were competent.


Dutch News reports show 87 per cent of assisted deaths in 2016-17 were in people with cancer, serious heart or lung problems or nervous system diseases such as ALS. However, some with dementia and severe psychiatric problems also sought euthanasia.


The New Zealand Act also allows people to choose assisted suicide or euthanasia without consulting their families or friends – something again out of step with other regimes.

Similarly in Belgium, the trend has been to expand the criteria to include younger and people and mental and physical disability.


The legislation is not just for the terminally ill, but also mentally-ill patients and children of any age (though children must have a terminal illness), who are in a “medically hopeless condition...”.


While most of those seeking euthanasia in Belgium have cancer, people have also been euthanised owing to autism, anorexia, borderline personality disorder, chronic-fatigue syndrome and depression.

If the End of Life Choice Act becomes law, we should expect that it will only be a matter of time before unbearable suffering will be extended to include disability or mental illness, as has happened overseas.


For more Stuff coverage on the euthanasia referendum, click here.


To read more about the dangers of the End of Life Choice Act click here

355 views
 

Authorised by Vote No to the End of Life Act, 159 Campbell Street, Karori, Wellington 6012

  • Instagram
  • Instagram

For media enquiries please contact our team on 021 090 58128.