Wednesday, June 17, 2020

New Zealand hospices may not have to do euthanasia, but may be required to arrange it.

Alex Schadenberg
Executive Director, Euthanasia Prevention Coalition

On May 6 I reported that Hospice New Zealand launched a court case concerning euthanasia and conscience rights.  

The New Zealand parliament had passed a euthanasia bill in November 2019 by a vote of 69 to 51. But in order to get the bill passed the government agreed to a referendum on the bill.

“A referendum on whether to put into force the End of Life Choice Act is to be run alongside the general election [September 19], and if the vote is ‘yes’ the act would take effect a year after the result was declared.”

Hospice New Zealand is concerned that the euthanasia referendum will force hospices and medical professionals to participate in euthanasia.

Hospice New Zealand took a case to the High Court in Wellington asking for declarations. Specifically, Hospice New Zealand, an umbrella organization for all hospice services, asked Justice Jill Mallon the following:

  • Whether an organisation such as a hospice can conscientiously object to Assisted Dying and operate a "euthanasia-free" service.
  • Whether a district health board or other funding agency can decline to fund or contract with an organisation if it does not agree to provide assisted dying services.
  • Whether the Act's mandatory obligations on a health practitioner override the ethical, clinical or professional judgments of that practitioner and their obligations under the Code of Health and Disability Consumers' Rights. 
  • Whether a health practitioner may exercise a right of conscientious objection on the basis that they hold as a core value that they must not act in a way that is contrary to their ethical, clinical or professional judgment and obligations.
Justice Jill Mallon responded in her ruling by answering only some of the questions.

According to an article in Stuff News Mallon said that some of the questions could not be answered without particular facts. Concerning personal conscience rights Mallon stated:
a doctor or nurse's deeply-felt belief that it was wrong for them to help for personal moral reasons, internal to them, certainly qualified. 
Conscientious objection might have a broader meaning but that would have to await argument on specific facts, she said.
Concerning the question of institutional conscience rights Mallon said that hospices could not be forced to provide euthanasia but they would have to meet their obligations of care to the patient. Therefore, hospices may not have to do euthanasia but they may be required to arrange for it to be done.

Judge Mallon said that she couldn't determine if a hospice would lose funding for refusing to do euthanasia without having particular facts.

Justice Mallon provided Hospice New Zealand a minimal amount of information. Considering the pressure to participate in euthanasia (MAiD) that Canadian hospices have faced I would suggest that Hospice New Zealand has good reason to be concerned.

Hospice New Zealand opposes the legalization of euthanasia and need to work hard to defeat the euthanasia referendum.

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