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New poll illustrates confusion about euthanasia bill - Euthanasia-Free NZ

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Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

A new nationwide Curia Market Research poll shows the vast majority of New Zealanders are confused about what the End of Life Choice Bill aims to legalise.

"While many of our supporters welcome the opportunity to vote on this Bill, we are concerned that a referendum result at the next election would not reflect the public’s true sentiments," says Renée Joubert, Executive Officer of Euthanasia-Free NZ.

In the poll, conducted from 31 October to 6 November, responses demonstrated that "even though this Bill has been the subject of public debates and media attention for four years, three-quarters of New Zealanders are still confused about which ‘end of life choice’ it seeks to legalise."

The poll found that 74% of New Zealanders think the Bill would make it legal for people to choose to have machines turned off that are keeping them alive, when in fact this is already legal.

Similarly, 70% of respondents thought the Bill would make it legal for people to choose to not be resuscitated, when again, people can already ask for such a request to be added to their medical file.

Ms Joubert says 75% of those polled thought that the Bill made euthanasia available to terminally ill people only as a last resort, after all treatments have been tried to control their pain.

However, the Bill does not require an eligible person to have tried any pain relief or palliative care before requesting a lethal dose, or to have a consultation with a palliative care or pain specialist to find out what options are available to them. [1]

She says the Bill proposes to legalise ‘assisted dying’, one of many euphemisms for voluntary euthanasia and assisted suicide. Eligible New Zealanders as young as 18 would be allowed to request a lethal dose to end their life instead of seeking treatment or palliative care, were this bill to pass."

Surprisingly, 73% thought that the bill makes euthanasia available to terminally ill people with less than six months to live, provided that they do not also have depression or mental illness. However, the bill does not categorically exclude terminally ill people who are also mentally ill, because mental illness would not necessarily make someone incompetent. [2]

"This poll demonstrates that the public is not yet aware of the content and meaning of the End of Life Choice Bill. Therefore, polls and surveys that do not specify which choices the Bill includes and excludes may not reflect New Zealanders’ true level of support.

"Furthermore, the poll highlights a real risk that the public will still be unaware of the bill’s proposals at the time of the referendum," Ms Joubert says. "We doubt that another year would be long enough to adequately inform the public, alongside the contentious debates on cannabis and the general election.

Euthanasia-Free NZ calls on MPs to prevent New Zealand having a referendum on this Bill at the next election by rejecting the End of Life Choice Bill at its third reading.

Explanatory Notes:

[1] The End of Life Choice Bill does not require a person to try pain relief or palliative care before requesting an assisted death by lethal dose.

The Bill states that an eligible person is a person who "experiences unbearable suffering that cannot be relieved in a manner that the person considers tolerable", (among other criteria in section 4). A person can consider an available treatment " not tolerable" without ever trying it. Once a person has expressed their wish to the first doctor in the process, the "attending medical practitioner", this doctor needs to "ensure that the person understands their other options for end-of-life care" (among other requirements in section 8 (2)(c)). The person is not required to speak to a palliative care or pain specialist to find out what other options may be available. In fact, the attending medical practitioner does not need any specific training or experience in the field of the person’s medical condition. This doctor needs to be registered with the Medical Council, but the type of registration is not specified. So this doctor could be fresh from medical school (see definitions in section 3).

[2] Depression does not necessarily make a person incompetent

In describing the euthanasia of a Canadian woman with a brain tumour and depression, psychiatrist Dr Ralph Lewis writes,

"Depression does bias a person’s outlook, but bias is not the same as mental incompetence. Doctors have to balance the need to protect patients in vulnerable mental states from exercising poor judgment against the need to respect their autonomy."

"One of the most challenging things in assessing competence is trying to determine whether and to what degree the person’s decision is distorted by depression. It is not abnormal to feel depressed in the face of great suffering and a hopeless prognosis. Assessors must consider carefully whether the depression is biasing the patient to the point that they’re unable to think flexibly about their options and the potential scenarios-in a sense significantly impairing the voluntariness of their decision."

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