The approval of the End of Life Choice Act Referendum puts vulnerable people and those who care for them on an unwelcome and dangerous path, says the ethics expert for the Catholic bishops, Dr John Kleinsman.
“For very many people, the End of Life Choice Act will bring a new and unwelcome dynamic into their lives. The very presence of the option of euthanasia will present as a burden and a pressure for many people and families,” says Dr Kleinsman, who is director of the bishops’ Nathaniel Centre for Bioethics.
“The introduction of assisted death will have a huge impact on all those who work with the dying – doctors, nurses and other health carers, as well as chaplains, priests and lay ministers. We will be reflecting in the coming months with these groups as to how the law will impact the people they care for, as well as the carers themselves. Among the questions raised will be ones about the provision of the sacraments at the end of life, and the impact on funeral celebrations.”
The End of Life Choice Act Referendum was held alongside the 2020 general election. Provisional results released today indicate 65.2 per cent of voters supported the referendum and 33.8 per cent opposed it. The act – which legalises euthanasia in New Zealand – will take effect in 12 months if the final count confirms the result.
Dr Kleinsman said approval for the referendum meant the country had crossed a line with no return.
The law – which was opposed by most major healthcare groups — is broader in scope than other laws overseas and, relative to places such as Victoria, Australia, much weaker in terms of its safeguards, said Dr Kleinsman.
“This is not a law for the few hard cases,” he said. “This law makes it easy for anyone diagnosed with a terminal illness to choose an assisted death – anywhere between 20,000 to 25,000 people will be eligible in any one year. It has no requirement for palliative care, no mandatory cooling off period, no requirement for independent witnesses, and lacks effective processes for detecting whether people might be opting for a premature death because of pressure, whether as a result of their own internal feelings of being a burden, or because of external pressures.
“This result goes against the tide of opinion worldwide with 33 jurisdictions around the world having rejected similar laws in the last five years, including the UK and Scotland, because of the risks posed for vulnerable people. It will only be a matter of time before our MPs come under pressure to broaden the law even more – that is what has happened with these laws overseas, and why would it be any different here? This law puts us on a very dangerous path, and today is just the start.”