Some Reasons Why Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia Should NOT be Legal

 
 Updated 18 July 2020

 

Introduction 

 

  • People on both sides of the euthanasia debate care about suffering people and want to prevent suffering.
  • The debate is NOT about whether a person should be allowed to end their own life. It’s already legal to end one’s own life.
  • The debate IS about whether it should be legal for someone else to be involved in ending a person’s life.
  • This issue is controversial because there are public safety risks when people are allowed to end the lives of others and when the State is involved in authorising it. This is a social justice issue – protecting vulnerable people from pressure and abuse.

 

Referendum on the End of Life Choice Act

 

  • At the September election New Zealanders will NOT be voting on whether euthanasia / ‘assisted dying’ should be legal in principle. We are voting on a specific version of ‘assisted dying’, on whether the End of Life Choice Act[1]. should start to operate as law. This Act has many problems that Parliament left unaddressed.
  • The End of Life Choice Act proposes “assisted dying”, which is an umbrella term for euthanasia and assisted suicide.
  • Assisted suicide means a doctor or nurse practitioner gives a person an overdose of medication to swallow or self-administer, with the purpose of ending their life. Euthanasia means the doctor or nurse practitioner administers the overdose to the person, usually by injection or intravenous delivery (IV).

 

Some reasons against legalising ‘assisted dying’

 

  • These days no one in New Zealand needs to die in pain. It is legal for a doctor to prescribe as much pain medication as needed to make a person comfortable, even if this may hasten their death as a side effect. If the doctor’s intention is to relieve symptoms and not to kill the person, it’s not euthanasia. In rare cases (1-4%) where pain medication is not enough, a person can receive reversible palliative sedation [3].
  •  Persistent requests for euthanasia are usually not based on physical pain, but on non-physical reasons, such as a desire to be in control, a fear of being a burden or feeling socially isolated. Death is not an appropriate or compassionate response to these issues.

    • The desire to die by suicide, or assisted suicide, can be associated with treatable depression.
    • When seriously ill patients receive good palliative care (physical, psychological and spiritual end-of-life care), they rarely want to end their lives.
    • The fact that voluntary euthanasia and assisted suicide are illegal encourages health professionals to try their best to relieve pain and other aspects of a person’s suffering. Will this still happen if the law is changed? Death would be cheaper than care and treatment.
    • Legalising assisted suicide, especially for mental conditions, accepts that ‘some suicides are okay’. This risks sending a ‘mixed message’ regarding the tragedy of youth suicide and creates a confusing double standard about ending one’s life.
    • The current law has a stern face, but a kind heart. By holding a penalty in reserve, it sends a strong message that it’s not okay to deliberately kill someone else. However, the Court shows compassion in individual cases based on specific circumstances. For example, in 2012 Evans Mott was discharged without conviction for assisting in his wife’s suicide.
    • Changing the law will not mean an end to such cases going to court because it could still be difficult to tell whether a death was an assisted suicide or a murder.
    • Many assume that changing the law will simply allow the very small number of high-profile cases to proceed without legal objection. In fact, ‘legalisation leads to normalisation’ and, as has happened overseas, will lead to greatly increased numbers dying that way.
    • Changing the law would create a legal situation in which the state licenses death in advance and sanctions the death of some of its citizens. A future government may abuse such power.
    • Legalising assisted suicide amounts to state-sanctioned suicide.
    • Changing the law would send a message that some people’s lives are not worth living – it will steer some people towards a premature death. Currently society accepts as a given that people who are sick, elderly or disabled need to be cared for until their natural death. If euthanasia were to be legalised, staying alive to be cared for would become optional instead of the default. Vulnerable people may have to justify to themselves and to others why they are choosing to stay alive.
    • Granting a tiny and vocal minority the choice to be killed would undermine the choice and/or will of many others to live.
    • Legal voluntary euthanasia and assisted suicide opens the door for disabled, sick and elderly people to see themselves as a financial and emotional burden. The ‘right to die’ could become a ‘duty to die’. No safeguards can protect against this. In Oregon, 59% of those receiving legal assisted suicide in 2019 cited “concern about being a burden” as a reason.[3]
    • Abuse of disabled and elderly people is a serious issue in New Zealand and in other Western nations. Legalising euthanasia would put them further at risk, especially when there is increasing pressure on the health budget. Coercion to die would be a form of abuse that may be particularly difficult to detect.
    • We should not ask doctors, who have a duty of care, to intentionally kill their patients using lethal drugs. “Doctors are not necessary in the regulation or practice of assisted suicide” – See doctorssayno.nz.
    • Intentional killing is dangerous and opens the door to abuse. Legalising voluntary euthanasia paves the way for euthanasia without consent. According to a 2015 NEMJ study, 27% of euthanasia deaths in Flanders, Belgium, occurred without consent.[4]
    • Safeguards will be unenforceable, because they rely totally on the agents involved to report the death as assisted suicide or euthanasia. There is no way of knowing whether a doctor followed all the legal requirements. The only witness may be dead.
    • New Zealand abolished the death penalty partly because of the danger of executing even one innocent person. Legalising euthanasia and assisted suicide will inevitably lead to some people dying based on a wrong diagnosis or being killed when they don’t want to die.

     

    References

     

    [1] End of Life Choice Act. (2019, Nov 16). Retrieved from http://www.legislation.govt.nz/act/public/2019/0067/latest/DLM7285905.html

    [2]  Dunne, P. (2012, May 12). Euthanasia and the issue of pain. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=4&v=MzcHt2QLnuA

    [3]  Oregon Health Authority Public Health Division (2020, February 25). Oregon Death with Dignity Act Data Summary 2019. p.12. Retrieved from https://www.oregon.gov/oha/PH/PROVIDERPARTNERRESOURCES/EVALUATIONRESEARCH/DEATHWITHDIGNITYACT/Documents/year22.pdf

    [4]  1.7 (% of deaths hastened without explicit request from the patient) divided by 6.25 (% of deaths which are physician-assisted deaths minus % of deaths which are assisted suicides) = 27% of euthanasia deaths occurred without the explicit consent of the patient. Chambaere, K., Van der Stichele, R., Mortier, F., Cohen, J., and Deliens, L. Recent Trends in Euthanasia and Other End-of-Life Practices in Belgium.N Engl J Med, 372;12, p.1179-81. doi: 10.1056/NEJMc1414527. Retrieved from http://www.nejm.org/doi/pdf/10.1056/NEJMc1414527