The following letter has been sent to 32 Labour MP’s
Mrs Darien Fenton MP,
Re: Euthanasia Legislation – A Threat to the Disabled and the Elderly
Right to Life recently learned that it was the intention of Ms Maryan Street to present a Private Members Bill to allow for doctors to kill their patients or to assist in their suicide.
Our Society is opposed to this proposed legislation for the following reasons: At the outset, we should define what is euthanasia. Euthanasia is allowing doctors to kill their patients or to assist in their suicide. This is not a religious issue, as some might suggest but a human rights issue. Euthanasia is not the withholding or withdrawing of treatment from a patient who is in a terminal condition when that treatment would be futile or burdensome. It is also not euthanasia for a doctor to administer medication for the purpose of pain relief to a patient when it may also have the effect of shortening the patient’s life; this constitutes good palliative care. The objective is to relieve pain and suffering, not shorten the life of the patient.
Under the Crimes Act section 158 Homicide and section 179 Suicide, the taking of life or assisting in the suicide of another person, are serious crimes against the person. This legislation is necessary to protect the lives of every member of the community, especially the defenceless and vulnerable.
It is noted that euthanasia is totally opposed by the NZ Medical Association because it violates their medical ethics. The Association supports excellent palliative care and considers that with proper palliative care there is no need for a person in a terminal condition to suffer. It would be an unwise and dangerous move for Parliament to legislate to require doctors to act against their conscience and ethics by killing their patients or assisting in their suicide. If euthanasia were provided, it would destroy the trust that we have in the medical profession. Could we ever trust our doctor if we knew that killing the patient was a treatment option. Doctors would become the most dangerous persons in the land.·New Zealanders have access to 35 world class hospices which ensure that all patients have access to the best hospice care at the end of their lives. Hospice care neither hastens or postpones death. They provide compassionate and effective pain control and meet the emotional, social and spiritual needs of patients. In our hospices patients can truly die with dignity.
Right to Life supports the New Zealand disability sector in its opposition to euthanasia. In the attempt to label opponents to euthanasia and assisted suicide as a moral, usually ‘religious’, minority, advocates often fail to take into account disabled groups. At the 2004 National Conference of the Disabled Persons Assembly, Associate Professor Christopher Newell said in the in his keynote address. “…I notice in the New Zealand debate to do with euthanasia, something I would suggest will recur time and time again. Strong leadership is required from governments in these areas. Precisely because people with disabilities live with the very conditions and situations whereby we become members of categories who may, and indeed should, die covered under euthanasia legislation.
“Sadly, all too often euthanasia advocates are not interested in taking on board the reality of disability – precisely because our lives are seen as exactly what they want to avoid. We are the opposite of choice and freedom according to non-disabled values. I say this as someone who once desperately sought death from a health professional in really appalling circumstances, and am always grateful for a response which supported me as a person, rather than just viewing this as an understandable request.”
The Dutch government has recently announced that it will provide six mobile euthanasia units to cover all of Holland as there are many persons with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease who are being missed by the euthanasia laws. The mobile units would allow these patients to be “treated” in their own homes. In Holland in 2009 there were 2636 patients killed by their doctor including 400 where the doctor assisted in the patient’s suicide. There were also 500 patients who were killed by their doctor without the knowledge of the patient or family. These figures are conservative as many cases are not reported. Holland is upheld as a country that has strict guidelines. Doctors are now killing newborn babies. In 2010 a woman in her eighties with symptoms appropriate to her age including impaired vision believed that her quality of life was impaired sought and obtained assisted suicide. It is cheaper to kill patients than to care for them. In Holland the quality of palliative care has deteriorated with the result that pressure is imposed on patients to seek euthanasia.
The Labour Party has traditionally supported social justice and has been an advocate for the marginalised and defenceless members of the community. It would be a retrograde step to support legislation that would permit doctors to kill their patients or assist in their suicide. Our Society believes that support for this legislation would have an adverse affect on electoral support at a general election.
To protect the vulnerable in our society we must be ever vigilant and resist this culture of death. The alternative to the threatening culture of death is a culture of life which recognises that life is a gift from the Creator, that respects the dignity of every person, that provides compassion and loving care for the terminally ill and high quality palliative care to ensure that they truly have death with dignity. Euthanasia legislation would result in subtle pressure being imposed on the elderly and handicapped to choose death. Many persons would die who did not wish to die and the right to die would soon become a duty to die.
In conclusion it is always wrong to kill the innocent. The first duty of Parliament is to support legislation that protects the lives of every person from conception to natural death, especially the vulnerable and the disabled and not to preside over their destruction. The protection of human life is an indispensable part of our social contract and the foundation of a civilised society. Right to Life supports the current legislation which protects the lives of the vulnerable in society and the continued support of government for high quality palliative care.
Right to Life requests that you uphold the current legislation which prohibits homicide and assisted suicide and that you withhold your support for legislation that would permit doctors to kill their patients or assist in their suicide. Thank you for all that you are doing to promote the common good.
I would be grateful if you would advise our Society of your position on this important human rights issue.