Misinformation on euthanasia polls and support

For years polls have indicated significant majority support for legalising some sort of assisted dying/assisted suicide/euthanasia.

Opponents of the End of Life Choice Bill currently working it’s way through Parliament have been trying to discredit the polls and have falsely claimed a majority of submissions on the Bill represents some sort of majority opposition. Groups who oppose euthanasia, in particular the Catholic Church, organised submissions to boost the opposing numbers – see Record number of submissions on euthanasia Bill.

In a debate on Newshub Nation yesterday Peter Thirkell from anti-euthanasia group Care Alliance promoted the submission numbers while dismissing poll history.

What I would say to that figure of 40,000 and your analysis saying 90 per cent was against the bill is that outside of the select committee process, there’s been a lot of polls which seem to indicate that the public is in favour of some form of assisted dying.

Thirkell: Well, polls are fairly whimsical things. They tend to be single-question things. They’re usually framed in a way— They use soft language like ‘assisted dying’, ‘with the approval and assistance of the doctor’, and, you know, ‘given certain safeguards’.

That seems to describe the aims of the bill.

That really doesn’t carry the weight of expert evidence. There were 54,000 pages of evidence that went to the select committee. Over 600 doctors wrote in, and 93 per cent of them were opposed; 800 nurses, 93% opposed. So almost 2000 medical professionals, and 94 per cent of them were opposed, so these are the experts that are speaking out on the bill.

There was not 38,000 experts submitting on the bill – ‘experts’ were only a very small proportion of the overall number of submitters.

The Care Alliance have been disingenuous claiming that a majority of submissions represents public opinion, it doesn’t do anything like that. It  mostly indicts an organised campaign to  boost the number of submissions opposing the bill.

Seymour: Well, first of all, the overwhelming majority of New Zealanders don’t make submissions to the select committee. That’s their choice. It doesn’t mean that their views are less valid. The same with nurses, the same with doctors. And I think Dr Thirkell needs to ask himself, as do most people that oppose this bill, why it is that over 20 years New Zealanders have consistently said…70 per cent, 75 per cent of New Zealanders consistently say that they want choice in this area…

A website called ‘a NEW ZEALAND RESOURCE for LIFE related issues’ on Public Opinion Polls:

Polls have been asking the following (or similar) question regularly since the 1960s and ’70s: “If a hopelessly ill patient, in great pain, with absolutely no chance of recovering, asks for a lethal dose, so as not to wake again, should the doctor be allowed to give the lethal dose?”, and the number in favour has steadily increased from about 50 to nearly 80 percent.

As one commentator said, it would be hard for an uninformed person to say “no” to that question without feeling negligent, dogmatic or insensitive.

But when the current ability of good palliative care to relieve the severe pain of terminal illness is known, though it it also known tragically not to be sufficiently available, the same question could be more accurately put: “If a doctor is so negligent as to leave a terminally-ill patient in pain, severe enough to drive him / her to ask to be killed, should the doctor be able to compound that negligence by killing the patient, instead of seeking help?” 

The question is really about medical standards, not euthanasia.

That suggested question is hopelessly slanted and would be terrible for a poll.

And “the following (or similar) question” is nothing like questions asked in euthanasia polls.

Ironically that website claims in About Us:

ESTABLISHING THE TRUTH

We believe that it is enormously beneficial for the public of New Zealand to be able to establish truth for themselves (with the assistance of a website like this one) rather than to rely on information that may be biased, or that is deliberately kept incomplete.

It has been our firm belief, throughout the development of this website, that people will recognise the truth when it is spoken, and that access to more information will empower them to make wiser decisions than if they have partial information, and therefore have a lesser, or shallower understanding of the issues.

Their lack of truthfulness would condemn them to hell based on Israel Folau’s recent proclamation.

The actual truth

A survey done by Massey University in 2003 showed that 73% wanted assisted suicide legalised if it was performed by a doctor, but if done by others support dropped to 49%. The wording of the questions were:

“Suppose a person has a painful incurable disease. Do you think that doctors should be allowed by law to end the patient’s life if the patient requests it?”

“Still thinking of that person with a painful incurable disease. Do you think that someone else, like a close relative, should be allowed by law to help end the patient’s life, if the patient requests it?”

A survey carried out on behalf of the Voluntary Euthanasia Society in 2008 showed that 71% of New Zealanders want to have it legalised. The question read:

“In some countries, though not all, if you have an illness that results in your being unable to have an acceptable quality of life, you are legally allowed to get help from a doctor to help you to die. If you had an illness or condition which resulted in your having a quality of life that was totally unacceptable to you, would you like to have the legal right to choose a medically assisted death?”

Another survey by Massey University in 2008 gave similar results.

Horizon poll in 2017: Q.1  Do you support a law change to allow medical practitioners to assist people to die, where a request has come from a mentally competent patient, 18 years or over, who has end stage terminal disease and irreversible unbearable suffering, e.g. cancer?

  • Strongly support 46%
  • Support 29%
  • Neither support nor oppose 8%
  • Oppose 3%
  • Strongly oppose 8%
  • Not sure 6%

Q.2  Do you support a law change to allow medical practitioners to assist people to die, where such a request has come from a mentally competent patient, 18 years and over, who has irreversible unbearable suffering which may not cause death in the immediate future, e.g.: motor neurone disease?

  • Strongly support 33%
  • Support 33%
  • Neither support nor oppose 15%
  • Oppose 6%
  • Strongly oppose 9%
  • Not sure 5%

The current Bill is unlikely to allow euthanasia in that situation. It is likely to require that an illness is terminal with death likely within 6 months. But there is still only 15% oppose or strongly oppose.

Colmar Brunton in 2017 asked “Parliament is to consider a new bill on euthanasia. Do you think a person who is terminally or incurably ill should be able to request the assistance of a doctor to end their life?”

  • Yes 74%
  • No 18%
  • Don’t know 9%

Newshub in 2018 – 71% support, 19.5% oppose:

So very similar results from Colmar Brunton and Reid Research in recent polls, and similar from Horizon, and their questions were nothing like what was suggested above.

See commentary and poll details at NZ Parliament Assisted dying: New Zealand

 

 

Seymour v Thirkell debate euthanasia and End of Life Choice bill

Act Party Leader David Seymour and Care Alliance Secretary Peter Thirkell were on Newshub Nation yesterday morning (repeated this morning) to debate New Zealander’s right to choose the way they die.

 


Simon Shepherd: The euthanasia debate is gaining momentum as the End of Life Choice Bill approaches its second reading in Parliament next month.The author of the controversial bill – Act MP David Seymour – is planning three changes including limiting it to those with a terminal illness – but will they be enough to sway its opponents? David joins me now, along with Peter Thirkell from anti-euthanasia group Care Alliance. Thanks for your time this morning. To you first, David Seymour. The justice select committee process had nearly 40,000 submissions. Do you accept there are flaws in your bill?

David Seymour: No, I don’t. You know, the bill was examined by the select committee. They’ve come back with a number of minor and technical changes to make sure that the way that it’s written aligns with its intention, and that’s what should happen. That’s why we send bills to select committees, and I’m very pleased.

Yeah, but surely, there are flaws, because you’re proposing changes to them.

Seymour: No. Just because you want to make something better doesn’t mean that it’s flawed. I think the major change that’s occurred and the major change that I’m now proposing is that it’s become clear from listening to people, including the public and also my fellow members of parliament, that there is not support for a bill that is for people who don’t have the terminal prognosis within six months. So that’s an easy fix. That was already one of the criteria — was people who are terminal within six months would be able to access the bill if they so choose. We simply narrow it and make it only that, and that’s the law-making process. That’s listening, that’s changing, that’s improving, and that’s getting a bill passed that everybody’s happy with.

So, Peter, how do you feel about those changes that are being proposed?

Peter Thirkell: Well, the bill that’s going to the parliament for the second reading is in fact in its present form. So David has indicated some changes he has in mind, but that’s all they are. The present bill is the present bill. And as you alluded to, 40,000 New Zealanders wrote in expressing concerns. A lot of expert evidence. Ninety per cent of the submissions were opposed. But importantly, within that, there were sub-groups like doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals — groups, peak medical organisations and such. So a lot of expert evidence, and there isn’t one sub-group constituency within the submissions that supports this bill.

What I would say to that figure of 40,000 and your analysis saying 90 per cent was against the bill is that outside of the select committee process, there’s been a lot of polls which seem to indicate that the public is in favour of some form of assisted dying.

Thirkell: Well, polls are fairly whimsical things. They tend to be single-question things. They’re usually framed in a way— They use soft language like ‘assisted dying’, ‘with the approval and assistance of the doctor’, and, you know, ‘given certain safeguards’. That really doesn’t carry the weight of expert evidence. There were 54,000 pages of evidence that went to the select committee. Over 600 doctors wrote in, and 93 per cent of them were opposed; 800 nurses, 93% opposed. So almost 2000 medical professionals, and 94 per cent of them were opposed, so these are the experts that are speaking out on the bill.

OK. So, David Seymour, what do you say to that?

Seymour: Well, first of all, the overwhelming majority of New Zealanders don’t make submissions to the select committee. That’s their choice. It doesn’t mean that their views are less valid. The same with nurses, the same with doctors. And I think Dr Thirkell needs to ask himself, as do most people that oppose this bill, why it is that over 20 years New Zealanders have consistently said — and this is according to polling companies, such as Reid Research, that Newshub relies on; polling companies that predicted the last election to within one per cent — not that I was happy about that, but they’re good, and they’re accurate — 70 per cent, 75 per cent of New Zealanders consistently say that they want choice in this area, and I would give two-word answer to why that is. Life experience. Because New Zealanders have seen bad death, and they’ve said, ‘If my time comes, I’m in a position where palliative care can’t help me,’ – and for some people, that is a reality, as it’s widely accepted – ‘then I want to be able to choose. It’s my life. It’s my right. It’s my choice to be able to choose how I go and when I go, not to suffer, writhing in agony, to satisfy somebody else’s idea of what a good death is.’

I just want to pick up on something that Peter Thirkell has said about medical professions submitting to the select committee process. One of the issues is that even the medical associations express concern about the reliability of predicting how long someone will live. So they may fall into the eligibility and have a timeframe of six months, and it gets turned on its head. So, I mean, what’s an acceptable level of error there?

Seymour: Well, they’re—

Thirkell: Well—

David first.

Seymour: Can we actually just go back to the fact that this is a choice? It’s your life; it’s your choice; it’s your right. So, yes, it is true that new treatments come along. It is true that people will bad prognoses make miraculous recoveries, and everybody who wants to choose this bill has to weigh that up. But what is not right is that people who don’t have that kind of fortune have to suffer just in case. This is about a personal choice. It’s not about imposing one person’s morality on everybody else.

So is that what you’re saying, that Peter’s imposing his morality on everybody else?

Seymour: Well, if you accept that this bill is safe, and that is the position of the Supreme Court of Canada, it’s—

Thirkell: That is highly contested.

Seymour: Well, no.

Thirkell: That is unsafe, based on overseas evidence. People who are vulnerable are at risk.

OK, gentlemen. Let’s just pause there.

Seymour: Which one of us would you like to answer the question?

I’d like to ask Peter a question. What about choice, as David is saying?

Thirkell: Well, choices have consequences, and the harsh consequence of this bill is that a medical practitioner, a doctor, has to take a lethal injection and put it into a patient and end their life. Although, it is not a choice for the person alone. By definition, it implicates someone else. If you create a moral opportunity for someone to elect to die, then you create a moral duty for someone to actually carry that out. You can’t act alone, and—

Serymour: Well, with the greatest of respect—

Thirkell: …therein lies the rub.

Seymour: The bill is incredibly clear. Nobody has to do anything they don’t want to do. If you’re a doctor, and you want nothing to do with this, then you can conscientiously object. Now, I’d just like to come back to the evidence about doctors — the New Zealand Medical Association’s done a survey, almost 40 per cent of doctors are in favour. Two thirds of nurses are in favour.

Thirkell: Well, I contest that.

Seymour: Well, OK. People can look it up for themselves.

All right. We’ll let people—

Seymour: That’s what the data is.

Thirkell: The NZMA says this is an unethical practice, and it will remain unethical even if the law passes. So what the Parliament is at risk of doing is imposing on the medical profession an unethical practice.

Seymour: Well, the Canadian Medical Association has just elected a doctor who is in favour of their legislation.

Thirkell: We’re talking about New Zealand. There are lots of problems in Canada.

Can I ask something about Canada? You’ve brought Canada up. Now, Canada — one of the major concerns about enacting this kind of legislation is whether it’s going to be a gateway or a slippery slope to people like minors or people with disabilities or who have a mental illness being able to access this. Now, that’s not allowed under the bill at the moment, but is that a possibility? That’s one of the concerns, isn’t it, David?

Seymour: Well, no, it’s not. Frankly, it’s one of the weakest arguments that people make.

But Canada’s looking at that right now.

Thirkell: There are over 2000 submissions.

Seymour: When the Canadians passed their law, they passed a law that said, ‘In a couple of years, Parliament must review the law.’ My bill does the same thing. That’s right, and that’s democratic. You’ve now got people submitting and saying, ‘Well, maybe it should change this way, maybe it should change that.’

So that’s a possibility.

Seymour: But to say because somebody in Canada has raised the possibility is a bit like a Canadian saying, ‘Well, I’ve read the ACT Party website, and New Zealand’s about to get a flat tax.’ The fact that some Canadian says it doesn’t mean that Canada’s going to do it.

It sounds like, Peter, you say that more than just ‘somebody says it’. You say it’s overwhelming. Is it?

Thirkell: Yeah, well, just on this issue alone, there were over 2000 submissions from those who were opposed, and we had Dr Leonie Hertz out last week — a palliative care physician from Canada on the ground. She says we paint a rosy picture. It was the same in Canada two and a half years ago, but actually the ground has shifted. It’s become normalised. They are already talking about broadening the criteria. It is simply unstoppable, and she says it’s not actually a slippery slope — it is a logical progression. You open the door, you let the genie out of the bottle, you can’t complain.

Seymour: I’m not sure that one avowedly spiritually-motivated Canadian doctor speaks for the country, but there you go.

Okay, and one last quick question, Peter, even if this bill’s not successful, the fact that it’s got this far, does it indicate a public shift on this issue?

Thirkell: No, I think, again, I come back to the submissions. It’s all very well to talk about polls, they’re whimsical, they’re not informed.

Seymour: Well…

Thirkell: There’s a huge amount of expert evidence and evidence from the public saying please don’t do this. It puts vulnerable people at risk, it disrupts the doctor/patient relationship and requires them to participate in a system that would be unethical. The overseas experience certainly is not reassuring.

Seymour: Well, Simon, if I can come in on that. Simon—

Thirkell: And palliative care is another alternative, we’d be much better to put our energies into that life-affirming—

Seymour: Simon, it’s widely accepted that palliative care is great, but it does not work for everyone. There are many countries that have considered these laws, and they have not voted them in…

Thirkell: It’s not widely accepted.

Seymour: …because the lawmakers were spooked and fear mongered by the kind of arguments we’ve heard this morning.

Thirkell: It’s not fear mongering, it’s evidence.

Seymour: But of those countries that have put an assisted dying law in place, none of them have gone back. And that tells you the reality is far better than the rhetoric you hear.

Well, we’re going to continue this debate as the bill goes towards its second reading. David Seymour, thank you for your time, Peter Thirkell, thank you.

Seymour: Thank you.

Thirkell: Thank you, Simon, appreciate it.


Transcript provided by Able. www.able.co.nz

Full video here: David Seymour clashes with anti-euthanasia advocate

Record number of submissions on euthanasia Bill

The  Justice Select Committee has received a record number of public submissions on the End of Life Choice Bill. Most of those oppose the Bill, but despite claims that represents strong public opposition it is more indicative of strong organisation in trying to oppose the Bill.

Family First have made a common but ridiculous claim:  Overwhelming Majority Tell MPs To Kill The Euthanasia Bill

Family First NZ, a member of the Care Alliance which has analysed the almost-39,000 submissions made regarding David Seymour’s assisted suicide bill, says that there is overwhelming opposition to the bill being considered by Parliament and that MPs should vote against the bill at 2nd Reading.

The analysis reveals the following:
• Overall, 91.8% were opposed to the Bill
• 93.5% of submissions received from doctors, nurses and other health care staff were opposed
• 90.6% of organisations which submitted were opposed
• 90.5% of submissions made no reference at all to religious arguments
• all submissions made by churches were opposed, including a Buddhist group and a Muslim charitable organisation supported by 13 other Muslim welfare groups and organisations within NZ

This means there is a lot of opposition to the bill, but it makes no measure of overall public opposition or support of the bill. The 35,000 who submitted in opposition is a small minority of New Zealand voters.

RNZ picked up on this line of opposition:  Majority of submissions against bill to legalise euthanasia

The Care Alliance, which represents some groups opposed to euthanasia, analysed the nearly 38,000 submissions made to the Justice Select Committee on the End of Life Choice Bill.

Care Alliance Secretary Peter Thirkell said it was a record number of submissions for any bill, and more than 90 percent were opposed.

“These are heartfelt. This is a cross-section of all New Zealanders, and they are very well-informed submissions – these aren’t just a few people with funny ideas,” Dr Thirkell said.

It is disingenuous to claim “This is a cross-section of all New Zealanders” – it is a section of New Zealanders who were organised by the care Alliance and Family First to submit in opposition.

David Seymour has reacted: Care Alliance vs polling science on End of Life Choice

Analysing Select Committee submissions on the End of Life Choice Bill is no match for 20 years of research on New Zealanders’ support for the choice of assisted dying, says ACT Leader David Seymour.

“Reputable polling companies have time and time again found the vast majority of New Zealanders support assisted dying and welcome a change to our laws. A review of 20 years’ research into New Zealander’s attitudes to assisted dying by the University of Otago found that 68 per cent support change.”

This chart from the Young study shows the vast difference between support running consistently at around 70 per cent, opposition at around 20 per cent, and undecideds at around 10 per cent in 17 polls taken since 2002. These polls were taken by reputable firms such as Colmar Brunton and Reid Research, which most recently found 75 and 71 per cent support, respectively.

The Care Alliance are at pains to stress that the opposition to the bill was not, in the main, religiously motivated. However the church asked people not to use religious language in their submissions and its Bishops have defended the practice.

“90.5% of submissions made no reference at all to religious arguments” was one of the things analysed.

These mismatches between select committee submissions on an issue and public opinion are not new. The Committee considering the issue of civil unions found over 83 per cent of submissions were opposed to a law change at a time when the majority of New Zealanders were in favour of liberalisation. MPs understood this and voted civil unions into law.

“It is a shame that the Select Committee process has been misused in this way, emphasising the quantity of submissions over their quality.”

The Select Committee process hasn’t been misused – any member of the public has a right to submit. And it has been common for a long time for groups to organise submissions to inflate numbers in support of or in opposition to Bills. The only difference here is the number of submitters.

And it has also long been common for groups to misrepresent what number of submissions means. I have even seem elected councillors and MPs either misunderstand or misrepresent  what numbers of submissions.

It is up to the Select Committee to evaluate the submissions – MPs on committees should al be well aware of attempts to make numbers of submissions mean more than they do. The Select Committee will make recommendations to Parliament, and then all MPs will vote on whether to allow the bill to proceed or not.

If the Bill passes the Second and Third Reading votes in Parliament it is likely to then go to a referendum. That is likely to be what the ‘Care Alliance’ is trying to stop from happening.

But it could take a while –  Euthanasia bill timetable extended as record 35,000 submissions received

The timetable for the Justice Select Committee’s report on the End of Life Choice Bill has been extended after a record 35,000 submissions were received.

The select committee MPs will visit the regions in order to hear oral submissions on the bill, finally reporting back to Parliament at the end of March next year.

Will there be time from there to progress the bill through the second and third readings, then include it in a referendum held alongside the general election late next year as has been intimated might happen if the Bill passes through Parliament?

The member’s bill, sponsored by ACT’s David Seymour, would make it legal for those with a terminal illness or irremediable medical condition the choice of assisted death, otherwise known as euthanasia. It passed first reading last December 76 to 44.

That vote might get closer as it progresses through the readings.

“The Justice Committee intends to hear from all submitters who have asked to be heard,” chairperson Raymond Huo said.

“Hearing evidence in the regions will help ensure that as many individuals and community organisations as possible can present their views and that the Committee take account of all of the submissions in an open minded and balanced way.”

Deputy chairperson Maggie Barry said the huge number of submissions showed how strongly Kiwis felt about the issue.

“The Committee could not have done the submitters justice if we had refused to travel or hear everyone who asked to be heard. It was therefore essential we had the six month extension to allow us to give due consideration to the enormous task ahead of us,” Barry said.

Oral submissions begin in Parliament today.

It will be a year for it to be reported back to the full Parliament.

See also The Spinoff – Submissions show tough euthanasia fight ahead

The analysis of the submissions as a whole paints a fascinating picture of who was making them, and how they argued their case. The vast majority didn’t reference religious arguments, though some churches are understood to have strongly encouraged parishioners to write in. The vast majority were also uniquely written – that is, they weren’t just a form letter or postcard which groups sometimes use to pile submissions up. More than one in ten were longer than a page in length. All of that indicates a significant amount of vehemence behind the views.

Of course, tens of thousands of submissions still doesn’t add up to a majority of the electorate, or even remotely close to it.