Thursday, April 26, 2012

Euthanasia debate in New Zealand examines bill to legalize euthanasia.

New Zealand
Yesterday, a debate on a proposed bill to legalize euthanasia in New Zealand occurred at the public hospital in Dunedin NZ. The debate was between Maryan Street, the Labour MP who is proposing the euthanasia bill and John Kleinsman, the director of the Nathaniel Centre.

An article that was written by Wilma McCorkindale and published in under the title: Right or Duty to Die. The article reported that Maryan Street stated:
The bill aimed to provide end-of-life choices for people with terminal illness and irrecoverable conditions which make life impossible, Street said. She emphasised the inclusion of protections within the proposed legislations for those wanting to die and those involved in the process. 
The patient had to be of sound mind when making the choice and protected from coercion. This would be attested by doctors. There was also protection against the decision being overturned if the person was later unable to express their view.

"Similarly there must be protection against criminal liability-protection for family members who are asked, like Sean (Davidson) to do the unthinkable."

People who had lived autonomous lives should also be allowed to be autonomous during the end of their lives, she said.

The article reported that John Kleinsman stated:

I don't think there is any law that can adequately protect against the risks. In fact the law would remove the most protective barrier," he told a full house at the hospital’s Colquhoun Lecture Theatre.

He launched a scathing attack on the Government's inadequate funding of palliative care,  saying it was driving people to assisted suicide. If people could be assured of death without agony the voluntary euthanasia debate would be redundant, he said.

"Until every New Zealander has access to high quality palliative care I think it’s unethical to introduce euthanasia. Choosing to die can never be fully voluntary in a society that doesn’t provide palliative care options."

Kleinsman also criticised rest home care, saying rest homes needed to "lift their game". 
Other considerations in the debate included societal changes such as the increase in elder abuse, and families living long distances from elderly or disabled relatives who believed they were a burden which encouraged life-ending decisions. 
The proposed legislation also presented a message that people who were ill or disabled were somehow worthy of less respect. The message is subtle but powerful. 
"Relaxing the law is fraught with possibilities for abuse. The right to die would very quickly become a duty to die."   

It is important to note that Street made it clear that family members would be protected from criminal liability. Considering the scourge of elder abuse in society and the fact that Canadian government indicates that approximately 70% of elder abuse is carried out by family members or close friends who the abuser is dependent upon.

Giving the possible abuser protection from criminal liability should concern everyone.

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