Parliamentary report on medically assisted dying

In June 2015 a petition was presented to Parliament from then MP Hon Maryan Street and 8,974 others requesting:

That the House of Representatives investigate fully public attitudes towards the
introduction of legislation which would permit medically-assisted dying in the event of a terminal illness or an irreversible condition which makes life unbearable.

Parliament’s Health Committee has just released their report on this. It looks in detail into many aspects of assisted dying and euthanasia.

This is a separate process to the Private Members’ Bill of David Seymour that was drawn from the ballot earlier this year, which hasn’t had it’s First Reading in Parliament yet (unlikely before the election).


Report on the petition of Hon Maryan Street presented

During its consideration of the petition, more than 21,000 individuals and organisations submitted their views to the committee. Over 108 hours, 944 people took the opportunity to share their opinions.

The petition requests that the House of Representatives investigate fully public attitudes towards the introduction of legislation which would permit medically-assisted dying in the event of a terminal illness or an irreversible condition that makes life unbearable.

Recommendation:

The Health Committee has considered Petition 2014/18 of Hon Maryan Street and 8,974
others and recommends that the House take note of its report.

This report gives us the opportunity to summarise, for the benefit of the House and the
public, what we heard and considered during our review of more than 21,000 submissions from the petitio extremely contentious. We therefore encourage everyone with an interest in the subject to read the report in full, and to draw their own conclusions based on the evidence presented in it.

Background

The petitioner, Hon Maryan Street, was a member of Parliament between 2005 and 2014.
While a member, she sought to introduce the End of Life Options Bill as a member’s bill.
The purpose of this bill was to provide individuals with a choice about how they end their life and allow them to receive assistance from a medical practitioner to die under certain circumstances. The petition originated with the Voluntary Euthanasia Society of New Zealand (VES) before being adopted formally by Hon Maryan Street. Since leaving
Parliament, Ms Street has become the President of VES.

There have been two first reading debates in Parliament on similar bills. Both were
unsuccessful. In 1995, members voted 61 to 29 against Michael Laws’ Death with Dignity
Bill. In 2003, members voted 60 to 58 against Peter Brown’s Death with Dignity Bill.
The petitioner’s bill was formally removed from the members’ bill ballot in December
2014.

Full report here

Conclusion

We thank the petitioner for bringing this petition before the committee and encouraging us to ascertain the views of New Zealanders on ending one’s life in this country. We appreciate that people come from a range of backgrounds and that this is a subject on which people hold strong views. We believe that the written submission and oral hearing process has provided a platform for people to share these views and discuss the issues with us. This report gives us an opportunity to summarise what we heard for the benefit of the House and the public.

Eighty percent of submitters were opposed to a change in legislation that would allow assisted dying and euthanasia. Submitters primarily argued that the public would be endangered. They cited concern for vulnerable people, such as the elderly and the disabled, those with mental illnesses, and those susceptible to coercion. Others argued that life has an innate value and that introducing assisted dying and euthanasia would explicitly undermine that idea. To do so would suggest that some lives are worth more than others. There were also concerns that, once introduced, eligibility for assisted dying would rapidly expand well beyond what was first intended.

Supporters of assisted dying feared their loss of dignity, independence, and physical and mental capacity. Submitters also spoke about the fear of pain and of having to watch loved ones suffer from a painful death. Supporters stressed their personal autonomy and that they should have the choice as to when to end their life.

Many submitters discussed their experiences of palliative care. We commend the service
given by palliative care providers and hospices. However, we were concerned to hear that there is a lack of awareness about the role of palliative care, that access to it is unequal, and that there are concerns about the sustainability of the workforce. We urge the Government to consider ways in which it can better communicate the excellent services that palliative carers provide, address the unequal access, consider how palliative care is funded, and address the workforce shortages.

The relationship between assisted dying and suicide was a common concern for submitters. Some believe that assisted dying should not be considered until New Zealand’s high suicide rate is reduced. Others believe that the lack of assisted dying legislation means that people are more likely to suicide.

We recognise that a lot of work and investment has gone into suicide prevention programmes and support services. However, we were concerned to hear that people feel that there is a lack of grief counselling. We therefore encourage the Government to investigate improving access to these services.

We have not made any recommendations about introducing assisted dying legislation. We understand that decisions on issues like this are generally a conscience vote.

The petitioner asked us to investigate attitudes towards the introduction of legislation that would permit assisted dying in the event of a terminal illness or an irreversible condition which makes life unbearable. However, some submitters thought that the criteria would or should be broader than terminal illness or an irreversible condition. This has made it difficult for us to consider what the safeguards should be. We were particularly concerned about protecting vulnerable people, such as individuals with dementia or reduced capacity. Some of us remain unconvinced that the models seen overseas provide adequate protection for vulnerable people.

We would like to thank all of the submitters for sharing their stories with us and for the
respect submitters showed for opposing views when they appeared before the committee.

This issue is clearly very complicated, very divisive, and extremely contentious.

We therefore encourage everyone with an interest in the subject to read the report in full and to draw their own conclusions based on the evidence we have presented.

New Zealand First minority view

New Zealand First congratulates the petitioner for bringing this issue before the Select Committee. Medically-assisted dying is a serious matter and is so serious that it is not one that should be taken by temporarily empowered politicians. New Zealand First cannot support such a fundamental change without a clear sign that this is the will of most New Zealanders. That would be achieved by either a binding Citizens’ Initiated Referendum, or a Government Initiated Referendum held with a future General Election thus allowing for a period of informed debate.

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1 Comment

  1. I support the NZFirst view on this. It should be a referendum.

    Reply

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