Several incorrect statements on the End of Life Choice Act were included in today’s Q&A programme.
In the interest of a fair referendum result at Election 2020, Euthanasia-Free NZ calls on TVNZ to urgently correct this misinformation on its existing online articles and social media posts, as well as via a follow-up programme on this referendum.
Even though most of these inaccurate statements were made by individuals, they are still misleading voters. It’s disappointing that some factual errors have subsequently been reported as facts in the accompanying online articles.
- Only the first doctor (attending medical practitioner) must check for coercion or pressure (Section 11(2)(h) of the Act). Dr John Cameron incorrectly stated that the second doctor (independent medical practitioner) and psychiatrist also have to do this. In reality, the independent medical practitioner only needs to check whether the person meets the definition of “eligible person” in Section 5, which doesn’t mention pressure. The psychiatrist only needs to confirm whether the person is competent and only if at least one doctor is unsure.
- Only the attending medical practitioner and the nurse practitioner need to stop the process if they suspect that the person was pressured. David Seymour and Sir Michael Cullen implied that all doctors involved would need to do this.
- The first doctor can be fresh out of medical school with provisional registration. Dr Cameron incorrectly stated that this doctor needs to be a GP. The Act states that both doctors need to be registered with the Medical Council, but it doesn’t specify the type of registration. Only the independent medical practitioner needs to have at least 5 years’ experience, but unlike the laws in the US and Australia, the Act doesn’t require either doctor to have experience or expertise in the field of medicine related to the person’s condition. Therefore, the Act doesn’t require either of the two doctors to be a specialist.
- A person with a mental illness can be eligible if they also have a terminal illness and meet the other eligibility criteria. The Act states that mental illness cannot be the only reason. David Seymour incorrectly implied that mentally ill people would be categorically ruled out.
- The End of Life Choice Act still includes some people with disabilities. Jack Tame was incorrect when he said, “It clearly stipulates that a person with a disability would not meet the criteria for assisted dying.”
An eligible person needs to have a terminal illness and a physical disability, defined as “an advance state of irreversible decline in physical capability”.
The Act states that a disability cannot be a person’s only ground for eligibility. However, a disabled person who meets the eligibility criteria will be included. A person could have a terminal illness as well as an unrelated disability. The boundaries are blurred even further by the fact that some disabilities involve complications that if untreated, would likely end a person’s life within 6 months. For example, a person with a spinal cord injury is susceptible to pressure sore infections, which if left untreated, could be life-threatening.
- The Act includes people for whom treatment is still available. The introduction to today’s programme stated that an eligible person needs to “experience unbearable suffering that cannot be eased”. This is incorrect. The Act states that a person needs to “experience unbearable suffering that cannot be relieved in a manner that the person considers tolerable”. The phrase “in a manner that the person considers tolerable” means that treatment may be available to ease their suffering. The person can refuse it for any reason, even if they haven’t tried it, and say that they don’t find it “tolerable”.
- The paperwork would be sent to a Registrar – an individual, not a “ministry agency” as incorrectly stated by Dr Cameron.
- The lethal dose doesn’t have to be administered within six months. Dr Cameron incorrectly stated that “there is a six-month window into which that agreement can be enacted.” The Act doesn’t specify how far in the future the initial chosen date of administration may be. In any case, the person can postpone the initial date by up to a further six months.
- A person needs to be competent to make an informed decision. David Seymour incorrectly stated that the person needs to be “of sound mind” which is not in the Act and may have a broader meaning for some people. A person could have depression and still be competent according to the competency criteria in the Act.
- If it were to pass the referendum, the Act would come into force no earlier than November 2021 – a year after the result is declared. Sir Michael Cullen incorrectly stated that it would come into force in July next year.
- Permanent residents would also be allowed. The introduction to the programme incorrectly stated that an eligible person must be a New Zealand citizen. It’s worth noting that, unlike the US and Australian assisted dying laws, this Act includes eligible citizens and permanent residents who live overseas.