Euthanasia in New Zealand
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Euthanasia is currently illegal in New Zealand as two attempts at passing legislation on legalised euthanasia failed to get through Parliament. It is also illegal to 'aid and abet suicide' under Section 179 of the New Zealand Crimes Act 1961. The clauses of this bill make it an offence to 'incite, procure or counsel' and 'aid and abet' someone else to commit (assisted) suicide.
The controversial book The Peaceful Pill Handbook describing how to perform euthanasia was initially banned in New Zealand. Since May 2008 it has been allowed for sale to readers over eighteen years of age, if it is sealed and an indication of the censorship classification is displayed. In addition, author Philip Nitschke excised a section that dealt specifically with methods of suicide, which might otherwise have fallen afoul of Section 179.
Patients are able to withhold treatment if it may shorten their life and advance directives are recognised by law.
Right 7 of the Code of Health and Disability Services Consumers' Rights states:
- "5) Every consumer may use an advance directive in accordance with the common law."
- "7) Every consumer has the right to refuse services and to withdraw consent to services."
This code is enshrined in law under the Health and Disability Commissioner Act 1994.
The New Zealand Medical Association oppose voluntary euthanasia and doctor assisted suicide maintaining that it is unethical regardless of whether the patient or relatives wishes to have it carried out.
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 drops 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?"
The 2008 survey by Massey University gave similar results.
Stance by religious organisations
The Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia, part of the Anglican Communion and the second largest church in New Zealand, believes that euthanasia has a place in society.
The Catholic Church in Aotearoa New Zealand, the largest Christian denomination in New Zealand, is broadly opposed to legalising euthanasia/physician assisted suicde. There are several reasons put forth by the New Zealand Catholic Bishops Bioethics Agency, The Nathaniel Centre, against legalising euthanasia/physician assisted suicide. Firstly, safeguards such as limiting of access to a narrow group of people will not eliminate the possibility of abuses occurring. They say that it is inevitable that when following a liberal philosophy in this instance, boundaries established initially will likely be widened to allow for other interest groups to access euthanasia. Secondly, granting the choice to be killed, or receive aided death will undermine the choice and/or will of many others to live. Thirdly, legalising physician assisted suicide/euthanasia infers acceptance of the notion that 'some suicides are okay'. They say this would undermine work undertaken in recent years by various non-government and government groups to remove the various stigmas associated depression and other mental illnesses that are known to be influencing factors in an individual not seeking treatment, which ultimately leads to some individuals ending their own life. This is particularly so in relation to youth suicide. Finally, broad societal support is given to the ongoing effort within the practice of palliative care to address the needs of the whole patient and their families. They say that legalising euthanasia/physician assisted suicide may hamper progress in supporting quality of life for those who want to live. “The key issue is not compassion or morality – people on both sides of the debate want to prevent intolerable suffering. The key issue is the long-term consequences of a law change for public safety. This is an issue of social justice – protecting the vulnerable.”
The Salvation Army opposes euthanasia. They do not see it as "death with dignity" and say that individuals do not have the right to take their own life.
New Zealand anti-abortion/pro-life organisations such as Voice for Life and Right to Life New Zealand are also opposed to decriminalisation of voluntary euthanasia or physician assisted suicide, although this has usually been subordinate to their opposition to abortion in New Zealand.
However, according to the New Zealand census, New Zealand is an increasingly secular society and it is probable that it is medical practitioners organisations that have greater credibility when it comes to opposition to euthanasia law reform. The New Zealand Medical Association and Hospice New Zealand do not support the legalisation of euthanasia.
Attempts at legalisation
There have been two attempts to allow for legal euthanasia in New Zealand. In 1995 Michael Laws championed the unsuccessful Death with Dignity Bill, which aimed to legalise voluntary euthanasia. The terminal illness of Cam Campion, a colleague in Laws' first term in Parliament, prompted this advocacy. It failed by 61 votes against and 29 for the Bill.
Peter Brown, when he was an MP for the New Zealand First political party, introduced a Death with Dignity Bill in 2003, but it was defeated by 59 to 58 votes. Brown became an advocate for euthanasia after his wife died of cancer in 1984.
On March 11, 2012, New Zealand Labour Party list MP Maryan Street announced that she was forwarding another private members bill to the parliamentary ballot box to forward the debate after witnessing the deaths of her mother and sister from incurable illnesses. The proposed legislation is known as the End of Life Choices Bill  However, by mid-July 2013, there were reports that her New Zealand Labour Party colleagues were requesting that Street withdraw the private members bill in question, given the possibility that it would distract from other issues during 2014 General Election campaign.
Lesley Martin received nationwide media coverage over the trial of the attempted murder of her mother. In her 2002 book To Die Like A Dog she revealed that she killed her mother due to the pain that she was suffering and was arrested shortly after its release. Martin was given a 15-month sentence of which she served seven and a half months. Ms Martin has since retired from euthanasia reform activism and dissolved Dignity New Zealand.
In a similar case, professor Sean Davison wrote his memoirs in the book Before We Say Goodbye, published in 2009, documenting the final days of his mother's life in 2006. A leaked copy of an early manuscript of the book revealed that he offered his mother a dose of morphine to help end her life. He was initially charged with attempted murder in 2011, but later pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of inciting and procuring suicide. He was sentenced to five months home detention.
In 2015, lawyer and cancer sufferer Lecretia Seales put a case before the High Court to challenge New Zealand law for her right to die with the assistance of her GP, asking for a declaration that her GP would not risk conviction. She died of natural causes shortly after her family had received the judge's decision but before it was made public.
The two main organisations lobbying for euthanasia in New Zealand are:
- the Voluntary Euthanasia Society
- the New Zealand chapter of Exit International
There were internal disagreements between Dignity New Zealand's Lesley Martin and Exit International's Philip Nitschke over the best way to provide voluntary euthanasia/physician assisted suicide for those who desire it. Martin favoured the introduction of legislation and regulation to control assisted suicide while Nitschke promotes autonomy and individual choice and responsibility at the end of life irrespective of existing legislation. Similar divisions occurred between organisations that sanction decriminalised and regulated voluntary euthanasia/physician assisted suicide and the late Jack Kevorkian in the United States, over similar tactical and strategic questions.
Criticism of reform movement
GayNZ.com has run articles that question whether the aforementioned fragmentation of euthanasia reformists, coupled with their lack of professional allies and the opposition of the New Zealand Medical Association and other medical groups will hamper decriminalisation of voluntary euthanasia or assisted suicide in New Zealand. This is based on analysis of the successful reform movements in the Netherlands and Oregon, where organised medical groups took a neutral stance on decriminalisation.
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- Martin, Lesley (c. 2002). To die like a dog : a mother, a daughter, a promise kept. Wanganui: M-Press. ISBN 0-473-08869-X.
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- New Zealand Herald - Euthanasia archive