American pathologist, painter, author and composer Jack Kervokian once said, “Dying is not a crime.” It is a simple statement. Yet, this short quote presents an argument that divides opinion, stimulates debate and creates heated emotional responses – the world over.
In New Zealand over 21,000 submissions were submitted in response to a petition to hold a parliamentary inquiry into euthanasia. According to the Oxford Dictionary euthanasia is, “the painless killing of a patient suffering from an incurable and painful disease or in an irreversible coma.” It is important to separate euthanasia into its two forms: voluntary and involuntary euthanasia. Voluntary euthanasia is when a patient chooses to end their life in order to avoid or stop their pain and suffering. Whereas, involuntary euthanasia is when a patient isn’t mentally or physically capable of making the choice and so instead, medical experts and close family make the decision on their behalf. A New Zealand Reid Research Poll conducted in 2015 found that 70% supported legalising voluntary euthanasia.
In it is time that voluntary euthanasia was legalised in New Zealand.
The healthcare industry is designed to prolong life but sometimes prolonging life is not the best outcome for the patient.
In recent times, Lecretia Seales a former Wellington-based lawyer fought tirelessly to avoid a painful death, but shortly after finding out that she had lost the legal battle, Seales succumbed to her brain cancer illness. A bitter justice for someone who only wanted to die on her terms. But it didn’t end there, Matt Vickers, Lecretia Seales’ husband has continued to press for the legalisation of consensual, physician-assisted suicide for terminally ill patients. Vickers wants, “to ensure that Lecretia’s personal sacrifice wasn’t for nothing.” This shows Seales’ and Vicker’s determination at not wanting future generations to share in the same extended painful experience as Lecretia Seales went through.
Vickers and Seales aren’t the only New Zealanders to push for this freedom in recent years. John Pollock, a former Auckland doctor diagnosed with a terminal illness believed it was time to legalise euthanasia back in 2010. He was quoted as saying, “The law as it stands in my view is cruel. It’s outdated, it’s cruel, it’s unnecessary – it needs to be changed. I don’t think that it is fair or it is moral for somebody else to suggest that they know better and that they have the right to determine that you may not be helped to die.” These are just two examples of a long history of New Zealanders who have pleaded for the right to end their pain and suffering, legally. Dr Mark Ottley a pain specialist from Christchurch agrees that euthanasia should be an option in extreme cases of suffering – stating that the best medications, psychological help and palliative care did not always work for patients. This illustrates how prolonging life is not always the answer.
Society’s most vulnerable will not become victims of unethical euthanasia.
One of the most common arguments against legalising euthanasia, claims that legalising euthanasia will create a ‘slippery slope’ effect where voluntary euthanasia today will lead to involuntary euthanasia tomorrow. The idea that voluntary euthanasia will eventually lead to the forced euthanasia of patients who are deemed to be longer valuable to society. This is despite little evidence proving this hypothesis. The Oregon Death with Dignity Act was passed in 1997 in order to allow physician-assisted voluntary euthanasia in the State of Oregon. Contained within this bill are a number of safeguards against abuse, such as requiring a non-blood relative or non-professional witness, the patient is made fully aware of their condition and all alternative options, the patient is referred to an alternative physician to be assessed in order determine if the patient can make an informed decision etc. Meet a patient who benefited from the Death with Dignity Act in Oregon – explaining her reasoning for choosing voluntary euthanasia over the alternatives.
Another argument against legalising euthanasia is the claim that society’s most vulnerable will be taken advantage of and euthanised against their will. However, a case study carried out in The Netherlands where voluntary euthanasia has been legalised – shows no evidence of society’s vulnerable being taken advantage of. The study found no evidence of increased euthanasia amongst society’s vulnerable such as, “the elderly, people with low educational status, the poor, the physically disabled or chronically ill, minors, people with psychiatric illnesses including depression, or racial or ethnic minorities, compared with background populations.” In addition, the percentage of deaths as a result of euthanasia has never risen above 3%. This addresses another concern that legalising euthanasia will escalate the number of deaths over time.
In conclusion, it is clear that voluntary euthanasia should be legalised in New Zealand. With a 70% majority in a 2015 Reid Poll; it proves that there is a large contingent of supporters for a law change in New Zealand. In addition, New Zealand’s history of euthanasia law reform activists such as Seales and Pollock who have illustrated how prolonging life is not always the best answer for the patient. Then consider that legalised euthanasia has not created the “slippery slope” effect in places such as The Netherlands and society’s disadvantaged have not been targeted by unethical euthanasia. Lastly, the legalisation of euthanasia has not led to a dramatic number of deaths as a result of euthanasia. But perhaps, above all – whether euthanasia is morally right or morally suspect to some – it should be up to the patient to be able to decide what is best for them. As the saying goes, “My life, my death, my choice.”
Mathieson, S.E. (2013). Live and Let Die: The Legalisation of Euthanasia in New Zealand. (Doctoral Thesis, University of Otago, New Zealand). Retrieved from http://www.otago.ac.nz/law/research/journals/otago085109.pdf
Rietjens, J.A.C., van der Maas, P.J., Onwuteaka-Philipsen, B.D. et al. (2009). Two decades of research on Euthanasia from The Netherlands. What have we Learnt and what Questions Remain? Journal of Bioethical Inquiry. 6: 271. doi:10.1007/s11673-009-9172-3
Onwuteaka-Philepsen, B.D., Brinkman-Stoppelenburg, A., Penning. C., et al., (2012). Trends in End-of-Life Practices Before and After the Enactment of the Euthanasia Law in the Netherlands from 1990–2010: a Repeated Cross-Sectional Survey,” The Lancet. 380, no.9845: 908–15.
Binning, E. (July 21, 2010). Dying GP’s Last Wish: Legalise Euthanasia. New Zealand Herald. Retrieved (September 19, 2016) from http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10660173
Broughton, C. (May 17, 2016). Euthanasia may be Answer to Incurable Pain, says Pain Expert. Stuff Health. Retrieved (September 17, 2016) from http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/health/euthanasia-debate/79852813/euthanasia-may-be-answer-to-incurable-pain-says-pain-expert
How to Die in Oregon. (October 30, 2014). How to Die in Oregon – Taking Control. . Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZpsTzcoBuoA