Premature to talk about legalising euthanasia

While we support discussion about Euthanasia and what it means to die well, it is actually premature to talk about legalising euthanasia while New Zealander’s lack equitable access to palliative care. In the absence of this choice, death by assisted suicide or euthanasia is an illusory choice – it can never be voluntary in a society that fails to fund and provide the full range of palliative options to all New Zealanders,” says John Kleinsman,

Kleinsman is the director of the Nathaniel Centre which is the New Zealand Catholic Bioethics Centre. He was speaking at a public forum on euthanasia and assisted suicide for healthcare and palliative care specialists, politicians, academics and activists hosted by the University of Otago Centre for Theology and Public Issues on Thursday.

At the forum, Labour MP Maryan Street explained the details of a member’s bill to legalise end of life options she is  presenting to Parliament.

She said she thrashed the issues out with a couple of Nelson preachers before deciding to sponsor the bill on behalf of a Nelson group of euthanasia advocates, because the debate shoud be religious as well as secular.

Sean Davidson, the Dunedin man imprisoned last year for helping his mother Patricia commit suicide, and who today returns to his family in South Africa, also spoke in support of the bill

Kleinsman said there is a need for honest and open discussion about the potential unintended consequences for society as a whole if euthanasia were legalised. “We should all be concerned about what it could mean for the severely disabled or terminally ill if euthanasia becomes an option,” he said

“It is often argued by those advocating to legalise euthanasia that it will not impact on the choices of those who do not want to end their life. They remain free to make that choice. On the other hand, the prohibition of euthanasia unfairly prevents some (albeit a small minority) from exercising their personal choice. However, the reality is that we don’t make our choices in isolation; our so-called ‘free’ choices are constrained by factors beyond our control,”

“There is the very real danger that people who feel neglected and undervalued will see themselves as a burden and will want to do the ‘right’ thing, especially when there are growing economic pressures on providing health and other forms of care for the aged. The ‘right to die’ will quickly become a ‘duty’ to die,”

“No euthanasia legislation can effectively protect against the misuse that would arise. This issue is about the protection of those most vulnerable at a time in their life when they most deserve to feel safe, valued and cared for. When making laws, the first priority must be to ensure that the rights and well-being of the majority are not prejudiced,”

“While protections and safeguards may be promised by those proposing legislation, there is no law that can adequately protect against abuses, no matter how much we want to offer such protection. The very act of legalising euthanasia will remove the most effective protection against abuses because the message it would send would be that human life can be traded against other things. It will open up new pathways to abuse of the elderly, sick and disabled,”

“We cannot even contemplate creating a legal ‘right to die’ for some when it means many more will lose their right or will to live.”


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