Alex Schadenberg debating Maryan Street in New Zealand.
New Zealand Labour Party MP Maryan Street has a private members bill for euthanasia sitting in the ballot box in Parliament. If this bill is drawn and subsequently made law, it paves the way for the un-consented killing of people with Down syndrome in New Zealand. Such a situation is entirely unacceptable and will be opposed in the strongest terms.
Clause 6 of the bill outlines the provisions for medical assistance for dying (that’s euthanasia):
6. Option to receive medical assistance to end life
(1) A qualifying person may receive medical assistance to end his or her life if he or she—
(a) is mentally competent; and
(b) suffers from either of the following conditions:
(i) a terminal disease or other medical condition that is likely to end his or her life within 12 months:
(ii) an irreversible physical or mental medical condition that, in the person’s view, renders his or her life unbearable.
So, in terms of our community the area of concern relates to the wording in 6(1)(b)(ii) –
“an irreversible physical or mental medical condition that, in the person’s view, renders his or her life unbearable.”
No problem there then? – We all know that Down syndrome is an irreversible physical or mental medical condition, but they have pretty good lives so they wouldn’t meet the threshold of having a “life unbearable”. And anyway, you might say, to qualify for medically assisted dying you have to be mentally competent, so there is no risk of abuse of those accidentally consenting to euthanasia.But, as we will see, those decisions don’t necessarily lie with the person concerned.
Think this through very carefully.
Here is the process for carrying out a medically assisted death. Clause 7 outlines the request:
7. Request made in person for medically assisted death
(1) A qualifying person to whom section 6(1) applies may request medical assistance to end his or her life.
(2) A request under subsection (1) must be—
(a) in writing; and
(b) signed by the applicant; and
(c) confirmed in writing by the applicant no sooner than 7 days after it is signed by the applicant under paragraph (b).
Despite subsection (2), if an applicant is unable to write a request or confirm it in writing, he or she—
(a) may instead mark the written request or written confirmation with an X; or
(b) may indicate a request or confirmation by other means, and that request or confirmation may be recorded in writing by another person.
(4) No request or confirmation made under subsection (3) is valid unless the certifying medical practitioner certifies that he or she believes that the written record of the request or confirmation properly records the wishes of the applicant.
(5) No family member or friend of the applicant can annul the applicant’s request.
Read that clause very carefully. A written request only requires the marking of an X by anyone and it is valid provided that it is certified by a certifying medical practitioner.
Clause 9 goes on to require a certifying medical practitioner to provide a certificate that the request complies with the law (i.e. that the request is genuine and without coercion, their patent wants to be killed, that they are mentally competent and that they have one of the qualifying conditions).
Clause 10 requires a second medical practitioner to make an independent certification. Once the certificates are made the doctor is free to kill their patient.
Sounds watertight then? So, provided there is a written request marked with an X by anyone and there are two medical practitioners who have signed a certificate that the law has been complied with, a doctor can kill their patient.
There are many good doctors who support our community and are committed to protecting life. But, they won’t be the certifying medical practitioners. Let’s be clear here. A certifying medical practitioner is by definition a supporter of euthanasia. Add in a negative bias many Doctors have towards those with Down syndrome and we have a toxic mix, the possibility of a legal pathway to the killing of people with Down syndrome, effectively with impunity.
Maybe we would give all doctors the benefit of the doubt that they will comply with the law. But, we can recognise the negative bias many of them have towards our community. The type of bias whereat Waikato and Auckland Hospitals they encourage late term abortions for planned and wanted pregnancies when there is a diagnosis of Down syndrome or Spina Bifida.
Maybe some of these pro-euthansia “certifying medical practitioners” think people with Down syndrome are a burden, some type of disadvantage (as described by bio-ethicists at Otago University), a life unworthy of life. We have heard it all before. Maybe an adult with Down syndrome is poorly in hospital and they are taking up resources that a “normal” person would better benefit from.
Does this sound farfetched? Surely there would be measures to stop abuse? Well, no there isn’t. Sure, there is provision for a review body. There isn’t much to review if the written request has the X marked and the victim is dead and can’t testify that they didn’t consent to their killing. It’s the word of the two pro-euthanasia certifying medical practitioners against the word of a dead person.
What about the penalty then for forging the infamous X. What about the penalty for the two certifying medical practitioners who decide that a person with Down syndrome, who is entrusted into their care, decide that their patient’s life is unworthy and they will just put them out of their misery. After all, they only need to fudge the paperwork? Clause 30 outlines the penalty for forgery etc:
30. Offence of falsifying or concealing, etc, intention or documents
(1) A person commits an offence who forges, conceals, destroys, or otherwise alters or frustrates the expressed wishes of a terminally ill person, or a mentally incompetent person who has a registered End of Life Directive, or any person who chooses to end his or her life in a manner that fulfils the requirements of this Act.
(2) A person who commits an offence under subsection (1) is liable on summary conviction to a term of imprisonment not exceeding 3 months or a fine not exceeding $10,000, or both.
So, if a certifying medical practitioner decides to kill a person with Down syndrome, the penalty is a $10K fine (maybe) and 3 months in prison (maybe). That’s if the dead person can prove it. That’s pretty much impunity. Maybe the police could pursue a murder charge, but is hard to see how the evidence could be proven.
So, Street’s bill is inherently unsafe for our community. Here are the steps for a person with Down syndrome being killed without their consent under this proposed bill:
·•Anyone completes a written request saying said person has an irreversible physical or mental medical condition that, in the person’s view, renders his or her life unbearable.
·•Anyone marks the written request with an X.
·•Two pro-euthanasia certifying medical practitioners complete the certification saying that the request is legal and they have followed the due legal procedure.
·•The person is killed without giving consent.
The penalty if they are caught is a fine of up to $10,000 and up to 3 months in prison. To prove that the certifying medical practitioners acted against the wishes of the person they have killed would likely require testimony from the dead person.
In reality, there is no way a euthanasia bill can ensure that this type of abuse won’t occur.
Needless to say, Saving Downs will be opposing this bill if it is drawn from the ballot.
Any law that creates a pathway for the un-consented killing of people with Down syndrome is entirely unacceptable. That is a bottom line. It’s not negotiable.