The End of Life Act puts our most vulnerable citizens at risk
New Zealand has done an outstanding job at protecting our vulnerable people during the Covid-19 crisis. Now we’re proposing to pass a law that puts these people at risk and even inadvertently puts pressure on them to make a choice for early death. How can we justify this hypocritical stance?
Our Covid-19 response should not be undone
New Zealand has proven to be a global leader in our response to Covid-19. We have spent billions of dollars and made great sacrifices to protect our society, especially those most vulnerable - the elderly and immune-compromised.
In March 2020, our Economic Response package included $2.8 billion in income support for the most vulnerable, along with permanent benefit increases and doubling of the winter energy payment. A further $126 million was allocated to support people unable to work because of illness or because they were caring for others.
The messaging our government sends is to be kind. Unite against Covid-19. Cover for each other. We have all made sacrifices to protect everyone, no matter how vulnerable.
Future generations will be paying back the billions we have spent to keep New Zealanders alive. Will it all be for nothing because we choose to support a law that endorses early death?
With the effort we have put forth to protect our vulnerable, why turn the tables on them? It makes no sense.
We cannot make it their ‘duty to die’
Our most vulnerable people – the elderly, disabled and ill – also happen to be the most susceptible to pressure and coercion. They often fear being a burden on others, whether financial, emotional, or due to care needs. What is being pushed as a ‘right’ to die could very quickly become a ‘duty’ to die.
Even discussing euthanasia can imply that they have an obligation to die. In the state of Oregon, where euthanasia has been legal since 1997, yearly reports indicate that reasons given for end of life concerns as “burden on family” and “financial implications of treatment” are increasing. In one instance, some state-insured patients were sent a letter informing them that their requests for costly cancer treatment were denied, but that the more affordable assisted suicide would be funded. Imagine how it would feel, receiving that letter. Such blatant prodding to take the option to die rather than seek treatment was likely unforeseen when the law was passed. New Zealand needs to take what is happening in Oregon as a warning, raising grave concerns over whether people actually exercise a right to choose or surrender to pressure.
Could you live with yourself if your father wanted to die because he felt he was a burden to you? That he was taking up your precious time, and his care was using up your inheritance.
Currently, society accepts that we care for our elderly until death. NZ Hospice released a statement establishing their position against euthanasia as it ‘puts pressure on vulnerable people’ and ‘undermines the relationship’ of trust between the patient, their family, and health professionals. Their focus is to help people live as well as possible until death.
With the legalisation of euthanasia, caring until death can quickly shift to the vulnerable having to justify why they choose to stay alive.
Reject the End of Life Act
The referendum up for vote in October is flawed and puts the vulnerable at risk.
The proposed law has only a weak requirement for assessment of coercion. The Act states that the health professional is required to “do their best” to discern whether the patient is being coerced. What kind of minimal standard does “do your best” set? Coercion usually happens behind closed doors and can be subtle. Elder abuse is already an active issue in NZ, with 79% of reported cases involving psychological abuse. How can a doctor be expected to detect coercion, especially if the patient fears their abuser? Can a health professional be SURE an elderly patient is choosing to die of their own accord and not due to pressure from family or other outside influences? What if the doctor is the one attempting to coerce them?
The proposed law has no requirement to attempt treatment first. The concern here is that death will be seen as a reasonable alternative to treatment. Over time our societal norms may shift from treating a terminal diagnosis to choosing death. The very lack of options presented may prove to be a pressure to choose death rather than be a burden or drain resources.
We must continue to protect our vulnerable population. Euthanasia does not protect them but puts their lives at risk and shifts societal acceptance of shortening a life over providing care.
It’s risky legislation with consequences that can’t be undone. When it comes to life and death matters, we need strict guidelines and laws to ensure the safety and rights of those at risk of coercion.