Euthanasia – should it be legalised in New Zealand?

Taking issue — By on May 7, 2013 10:06 am

Options of last resort
Imagine a woman with a progressive, terminal condition who is dependent on a ventilator to breathe. She has come to see her situation as intolerable and after discussions with her family and the various health care professionals caring for her, asks that the ventilator be removed. After consultation this duly happens and the woman dies. This option is legally available in New Zealand.

Now imagine a woman who also has a progressive, terminal condition who can breathe on her own but who has no medical treatment to withdraw or withhold. She also feels her situation is intolerable and would like to die. For her the options to die sooner rather than later are very limited. No doctor in New Zealand may assist her to die, whether that entails giving her a lethal dose of medication that she can take on her own (physician assisted dying), or actively ending her life with a lethal dose of medication (euthanasia).

In the first scenario, removing the ventilator from the woman causes her death. She did not die of the underlying condition for if she were not removed from the ventilator she would continue to live.

What is surely significant here are the reasons that the doctors in the first scenario complied with her request to disconnect the ventilator. No doubt these concerned deeply-held views about her quality of life, her suffering, her prognosis and life expectancy.

And yet the woman in the second scenario may have identical reasons for wanting to die. The act of causing death is not the significant issue but rather the justification given for acting. Whether a doctor in either of these scenarios intended the death of the patient or merely foresaw the death is surely irrelevant. What matters is why they acted in the way they did, given the particular context in question.

Physician-assisted dying and euthanasia are already happen in New Zealand. Should they be legalised? I believe such practices can be ethically justified as appropriate last resort options at the end of life. Yet this is no trivial issue – ethics illuminates one aspect of the debate – we need to hear other views and other voices. What do you think?

Phillipa Malpas PhD
Senior Lecturer in Clinical Medical Ethics
Department of Psychological Medicine
Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences

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5 Comments

  1. Nicole Biesenbender says:

    Every person who has an opinion, either for or against, the topic of ‘euthanasia’ needs to stop for a moment and imagine they have a terminal disease with only one possible outcome: death. Would you like to face a journey to death in pain and suffering or would you like the CHOICE to be able to end that journey in a humane manner? I don’t believe that anyone will HONESTLY answer for a preference to end their journey in pain and suffering. We make humane decisions everyday for our beloved pets. We should have the right to make humane decisions for ourselves, framed with some logical ‘safeguards’ to ensure that that CHOICE is not abused.

  2. Holger Busche says:

    Everybody should have the right and the possibility to end his/her life on own wish. In cases when the patient is able to act on his/her own it should be legalised. It is a little more difficult with euthanasia because someone is being pushed to actively kill someone else. It is important for cases in which patients are able to act no longer on their own. But how do you know that they wants to die, if they can’t express themselves any more? As long as there is no way to determine this exactly it shouldn’t be allowed. Any solutions?

  3. P.Maher says:

    To quote Dr. Maipas,”The act of causing death is not the significant issue”. Actually the act of causing death , murder, is the issue. Perhaps not from the willing patient’s point of view, for now at least, but certainly for the medical practitioner who murders the patient. Legalising ‘soft murder’ is unethical, and a medical ethicist promoting such a viewpoint is somewhat disconcerting. Perhaps Dr. Malpas needs to get out a little more, and cut back on mulling over how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.

    A quick look at the current practice of Euthanasia, as legally practiced in Belgium, throws up some interesting and instructive facts. Like the current Euthanasia supporters in New Zealand, the Belgians boosters for legalised murder, pushed a conservative and limited plan, where Euthanasia would only be used as a ‘last resort’, whatever that means. The reality for the Belgians was somewhat different. Typically, a ‘wedge program’ was begun and over time this program became more liberal and wider in both application and justification. The Belgian pro-Eutheninasia protagonists, having achieved limited legal sanction to murder, at the behest of State power, began a covert plan to slowly broadened the scope and practice of their initiative.

    Since 2002 when Belgium legalised Euthanasia there has been a constant creeping permissiveness in both practice and proliferation, so that in 2013 we now have the fact of the involuntary euthanising of patients by legally authorised killers. Using the growth of Euthanasia practice in Belgium is a perfect laboratory for New Zealanders to research the progression of this Fascist practice, that has its roots more in the Third Reich than that the 21st. Century.

    Like New Zealand, Belgium has a number of Progressive Political Parties, with virtually no traditionalist political representation. Fiscally centrist, but socially left leaning Liberal Progressive, Belgium had little traditional organised opposition to Euthanasia ‘mission creep’. The ‘Right to Choose’ and self determination were
    the clarion cries of the promoters of Euthanasia in Belgium. After a decade the reality is different and New Zealanders would be wise to draw lessons from the Belgium experience.

    Being small nation states, both Belgium, like New Zealand have a very shallow pool of jurists, ethicists and medical practitioners. Like the Abortion legislation, the initial safeguards have been finessed by the limited cohort of specialists available, especially as there is an active lobby group pushing more progressive interpretation over time. A typical ‘wedge, breach and extend ‘ tactic, that has had some success for Progressive groups worldwide over the past half century.

    Recently in Belgium there have been a spate of ‘extensions’ to the spirit of Euthanasia legislation where quality of life issues, a deaf man going blind, was considered sufficient grounds for death by medical intervention, surely the ultimate euphemism for murder. Or a 64 year old chronically depressed woman, killed by doctors without any recourse to the woman’s family. Surely her mental state alone should have precluded her from any decision making process as final as causing death.

    Another case of a 44 year old female with chronic anorexia nervosa, legally killed by medical practitioners, some of whom were quoted as saying that State sanctioned murder was not “such a big deal.” I seem to remember that medical men at Belsen Concentration camp, had similar attitudes to the deaths of others, as long as it was legal in the Reich, which it was of course.

    The evil that was bombed to pieces in the ruins of Berlin in 1945, has returned. Dressed up in Progressive Humanist cant such as Euthanasia is a “beautiful” and positive way to die, so self affirming, so liberating, so humane and ‘positive’. Perhaps I should book out a copy of the movie, Solyent Green again, as a quick refresher about what’s on offer.This concept of Euthanasia as State sanctioned murder is hardening in Belgium into a political ideology of death, but given its antecedents in the Socialist Left Eugenics movement and NAZI Germany’s cult of death, last century, it’s no wonder.

    Euthanasia is hardening from a medical option into an ideology. Belgium’s euthanasia doctors even believe they are being humane because they are liberating people from their misery. Fundamentalist humanists go further and describe euthanasia as the ultimate act of self-determination. The opinion of the patient’s family has no weight whatsoever. A doctor is entitled to give the mother of a family a lethal injection without offering any explanation to her children. Euthanasia is being promoted as a “beautiful” and positive way to die. Doctors are transplanting organs from patients who die in the operation. (This is said to make their lives meaningful.) The law may soon allow children and patients with dementia to be euthanised.

    Just as the meagre conservative opposition to the introduction of Euthanasia in Belgium was silenced by Progressives, who felt it necessary to deny the right of dissenting views in a pluralistic society, so too the NZ Hard Left is attempting to shut down opposing views to the Maryan Street Private Members’ Bill on Euthanasia.

    The recent delisting by the Charities Commission, of ‘ Voice For Life’ as a charitable organisation, is typical of the Fascist Left’s attempts to silence opposing views in New Zealand. A single garbled two sentence rant, full of spelling and grammar errors, by a supporter of the Street Bill, was sufficient to galvanise the Charities Commission into action, resulting in pulling the ‘charitable organisation status’ from Voice For Life, whose 50,000 signature petition obviously spooked the Hard Left. While those groups supporting Euthanasia legislation, such as Action For Children And Youth Aotearoa, Amnesty International New Zealand Inc, EPOCH, Human Rights Foundation Of Aotearoa New Zealand, Humanist Society of NZ, Agender Christchurch Inc, QSA Network Aotearoa, and Rainbow Youth Incorporated, all seem to get a pass and retain Charities taxation exempt status. Funny that? I’m sure it must be all a tragic mistake … or something.

    Even the fact that this initiative to debate Euthanasia at the University of Auckland, at this specific time, must elicit the typical ‘Tui Beer’ response…. Yeah Right !

  4. Megan Mills says:

    If someone denies another person the right to die then they deny them right to live. Living then becomes a duty they owe to someone or thing.

    Every right to (for example) do, be or have anything must necessarily be accompanied by the right not to do, be or have it. Else the rights are recast as duties which are not rights at all.

    Some like to argue that the person who says they want to die is mistaken. Well, when it comes to decisions regarding our own lives, we have the right to be wrong too.

  5. Ingenio says:

    We’ve also had a response to this article via email, which we’ve published here:

    Letter from Margaret Luff