They say the true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable people. This quote by Mahatama Gandhi would cast New Zealand in a negative light if David Seymour’s End of Life Choice Bill, which successfully passed its First Reading this week, becomes law.
While the title of the legislation may appear docile, its content and application – at least in its current form – is anything but. Seymour’s member’s bill allows for both voluntary euthanasia (the act of intentionally, knowingly, and directly causing the death of the patient at their request and is performed by another person) and assisted suicide (the act of intentionally and knowingly providing the means of death to a person at their request but is performed by that person themselves) to be legal.
The member from Epsom rationalizes his bill “to give people with terminal illness or a grievous medical condition the option of requesting assisted dying”, which means that those who do not wish their lives be prolonged be allowed to pass. Yet such an option is already legal in our current system, guaranteed under the New Zealand Bill of Rights (Section 11) and made easy with the Advanced Care Planning.
The ACP empowers the patient to select the treatment path they prefer, which their assigned medical support team are obliged to follow. The team can also be tasked to inform the patient’s relatives of the chosen treatment path, if the ailing individual deems it too emotional to do themselves.
Apologists of the End of Life Choice Bill would argue that though the patient can legally choose to expire, they still experience agony while awaiting their demise. Allowing human beings to suffer is morally wrong, which is why the State funds palliative care services for those suffering terminal illness or experiencing irreversible medical conditions that causes anguish.
The problems of human rights and human suffering are already provided for under our current system, so what warrants this Bill’s introduction?
According to Seymour there is widespread public demand for legal voluntary euthanasia in New Zealand, the problem however is that there also exists widespread confusion over what ‘euthanasia’ actually is. A commissioned Curia Market Research Poll shows that a vast majority of those surveyed thought that the definition included turning off life support or heeding ‘do not resuscitate’ (no CPR) requests.
Those ‘end-of-life choices’ are already legal, as mentioned previously. Those rights are also enshrined under the Bill of Rights and patients who perish under these conditions are counted to die of natural causes. The process of euthanasia however requires another person to administer a substance to the ailing patient, either through oral ingestion, intravenous delivery or through an injection – all three methods are provided for under the End of Life Choice Bill.
Choosing to end one’s suffering and be allowed to expire is already legal, what David Seymour wants to introduce is to allow medical professionals to tell a vulnerable individual that they can perform a fatal measure that will speed up this otherwise natural process. Such conduct violates section 179 of the Crimes Act of 1961, and is counted as “aiding and abetting suicide”.
Many would argue that comparing voluntary euthanasia to suicide is a false equivalency, but what exactly is the difference? In both cases there is an individual who is suffering, either physically or mentally, and they elect to take their own lives rather than die of natural causes. Perhaps the only notable distinction is that the person abetting suicide veiled as “euthanasia” is mandated to have academic qualifications.
Parliament were rightfully critical of the National Party when during their reign in government New Zealand amassed the highest number of youth suicide in the developed world. We were all aghast at the fact that more than 600 people took their own lives in 2016 alone, crying that we had a suicide crisis, and yet here we are in 2017 considering a bill that will normalize suicide and, according to Mr. Seymour himself, give it the distinction of “dying with dignity”.
In reality, there is nothing dignified about taking your own life. If the patients in our health system are choosing to take their lives instead of continuing their treatment, then there is something horribly wrong with it if people would rather die than live through it.
Perhaps this is where we can have a look in terms of opportunities to alleviate pain and suffering among ailing New Zealanders – look for ways to improve and improve access to necessary health services. Though of course, this course of action involves investing significant sums of funds which a political party like ACT is strongly opposed to.
Maybe this is the reason why Seymour is introducing the End of Life Choice Bill all along, to ease the financial burdens of the perpetually ill on our health spending. Think about it, the previous neo-liberal government led by the National Party and also supported by David Seymour’s ACT Party disregarded the plight of vulnerable New Zealanders multiple times to reduce costs.
Remember when they outsourced the running of a Corrections facility to a British company called Serco to cut costs? It was later found out that prisoners were being abused by Serco’s security and a “fight club” existed among prisoners blatantly ignored by the staff.
Then there’s Housing NZ who disregarded the sorry state of their homes. Despite the derelict accommodations, the state housing agency still rented them out to poverty-stricken tenants for a cost not that different from the average market price. Even children were not spared by the neo-liberals, as the Child, Youth and Family Services (CYFS; now Ministry for Children) were exposed to have ignored reports of children under their supervision being abused under foster care set-up by their agency.
Poor families and children are among the most vulnerable in our society and they were not spared by the specter of austerity, it isn’t hard to believe that the infirm are also on the radar. In fact, there was a previous attempt by the 1990-1999 National government under Jim Bolger to disregard the plight of the infirm in order to reduce health spending.
The revelation was made by investigative journalist Selwyn Manning, who discovered that the Ministry of Health under eventual Prime Minister Jenny Shipley were establishing committees which would create criteria for patients’ eligibility for certain treatments. The Core Health Services Committee (CHSC) was tasked to evaluate “a way of reducing the cost-burden on the government for health services”.
This included the life-saving renal dialysis treatment, which was vital to those suffering from end-stage renal failure. The CHSC would determine if patients who applied for this treatment were eligible or not, and for the latter category those patients are virtually condemned to suffer death. Even former Prime Minister David Lange (Labour) criticized the plan during a speech in Parliament, and if the man widely credited for bringing forth neo-liberal reforms to New Zealand calls your neo-liberal reform too extreme then it probably is.
Nearly two decades later we see a similar, but more cruel measure being attempted to be made into law. Seymour’s bill may not allow the State condemn the patient into certain death, but it does allow State forces to gaslight vulnerable patients to make them believe that death is a worthwhile option to consider. Because by all counts, allowing a patient to expire is a lot cheaper than treating them – regardless if its moral or not.
The French philosopher Albert Camus one declared that human beings are in a “state of crisis” when “we can contemplate the death or the torture of a human being with a feeling of indifference, friendly concern, scientific interest, or simple passivity.” New Zealand just witnessed a majority of Parliament give the nod to a bill that will see vulnerable, decrepit individuals take their own lives as opposed of finding better measures of alleviating their pains by improving the healthcare system.
Our infirm deserve a lot better than this heartless cost-cutting measure.