Let me make myself clear. I am generally in favour of euthanasia but only if it involves an individual choice and leaves the State and the medical profession out of it.
By The Defender.
One year on. This week marks an anniversary not to be forgotten; but also not to be celebrated. It is one year since the End of Life Choice Act has been operational in New Zealand.
We have lost more than 214 lives to assisted suicide and euthanasia as a result.
And tragically, more than 596 people have applied for access to the lethal dose.
A total of 132 health practitioners signed up to deliver death as part of the SCENZ committee, and a number more have injected the deadly dose of unregulated, off-label and unapproved drugs privately to their patients without registering as part of the group.
The Ministry of Health predicted two-thirds of applications would be turned down. They were very wrong. In reality, only around 20% of applicants failed.
And those deemed ineligible were left with no support or follow up.
Just 4 people that have applied were referred to a psychiatrist for further investigation as part of the process. That’s shockingly low considering in international jurisdictions where there are similar laws the rate of depression among those who apply is rife. Those with depression need help not death.
Information provided about those applying for assisted suicide and euthanasia has been minimal. We know how many have applied, what region they are from, and what most of their diagnoses are.
But there’s so much we don’t know.
The Minister of Health has promised when there are higher numbers of those using assisted death they will look at releasing more detail… claiming to do so currently would not “protect confidentiality” of those applying. But really the lack of transparency is denying accountability. And there are no specifics as to what “more detail” looks like.
We know there have been 4 complaints made to the Secretariat related to the assisted dying service. One has been upheld. That complaint was made by a family member and was in relation to their experience of assisted death in a public hospital. We know nothing more about the nature of the complaint. The complaint has been upheld and given to the Health and Disability Commissioner to investigate. Nearly five months later, and a decision still has not been released.
When looking at the reports, it isn’t just about where the majority of the numbers fall, but the small and minor numbers still matter. Numbers are people.
So far 20% of those using assisted suicide and euthanasia sadly have not received palliative care. Would they have chosen differently if they were supported and cared for by Hospice?
We also know 17.5% of those deemed ineligible were denied access because they were not competent to make an informed decision. Who are these people? If they were not mentally rational or present enough to decide for themselves, who was with them? Who was applying on their behalf? Is there any indication of coercion?
There is no follow up.
When we first faced the news that the EOLC Act had passed we predicted there would be stories of “compassionate killing” celebrating the access to deadly drugs. And we got them.
Stories like that of Esther Richard’s assisted death glorified on NZ’s Sunday programme. The tale of an expat, UK woman with a terminal diagnosis flying to NZ to die by euthanasia plastered across the NZ Herald. Stories attempting to soften the boundaries on what is acceptable and manipulate readers into assuming assisted suicide and euthanasia is now a “normal” option near the end of life.
We knew there would quickly be a push for expansion for eligibility criteria. There have been in every other country where it is legalised.
Ours came wrapped in a recommendation from the Assisted Dying Registrar’s report and of course in the jabs made by legislation founder Act Leader David Seymour.
It hasn’t been surprising. But it is sad.
#DefendNZ has not been sitting and waiting. We have refreshed, refocused, and relaunched with a new target: To Improve, Support, and Inform.
We have the backing of incredible ambassadors like Hon Dame Tariana Turia DNZM, Professor Roderick MacLeod MNZM, Dr Mary English, Grant Illingworth KC, disability advocates Claire Freeman and Kylee Black, Dr John Fox and Lawyers for Vulnerable New Zealanders lawyer Richard McLeod.
We created and launched The Defender – from tracking headlines across national media platforms, to providing commentary, context and balance – helping people get informed of the latest news, stories and views with New Zealand’s only exclusive assisted suicide and euthanasia news platform.
And we’re pushing for the Six to Fix — a petition to Parliament for six amendments to the End of Life Choice Act that would drastically improve public safety. We’ve almost ticked over 1000 signatures.
So while we look back on the year that marks the introduction of the terrible reality of assisted suicide and euthanasia operating in our country, we also remember there are so many out there fighting the good fight — caring compassionately for those nearing the end of life.
From doctors, nurses and health practitioners, to parents, children and friends. Really, to ensure we all have the best last days, it will take a community effort to care and provide for those at the end of their journey.
While there is great need, and great danger… There is also great care and great strength.
Partner with us for the year ahead.
We are here for you.