Assisted dying review won’t change the current law

The End of Life Choice Act which governs assisted dying will be reviewed later this year.

Health Minister Shane Reti (himself opposed to assisted dying) and the coalition partners are drawing up the review’s terms of reference.

While Act Party leader David Seymour, who instigated the Assisted Dying laws, would like changes made to the eligibility criteria, he accepts nothing’s likely to change any time soon.

The review itself won’t change the law, he says.

That’s because the review outcome is simply a report to Parliament. It will probably make some recommendations, but there was no requirement for the government to pick up the changes or Parliament to debate it.

It’s more likely an MP will take the recommendations and put them into a member’s bill which will need to be pulled from the ballot to be considered, Seymour explains.

Timeframe change needed

At present, assisted dying is available only to terminally ill adults with fewer than six months to live.

Seymour wants the “cruel” six month timeframe to be scrapped.

Auckland’s Totara Hospice – the only one in the country offering assisted dying on its premises – would “at best like to see that timeframe removed, or extended to twelve months”.

“The Act says suffering is defined by the patient so we don’t see the need for a time requirement to be put on suffering” chief executive Tina McCafferty says.

The ‘gag clause’

Seymour and McCafferty want the rules preventing doctors from discussing assisted dying to change. At the moment, patients must raise the question with their doctor.

McCafferty says that restriction is “at odds with the actual responsibilities of healthcare professionals … to inform patients of all choices they can have in their care”.

“Not everyone is articulate when it comes to health literacy, and I want to see that potential bias or inequity mitigated” she says.

Hospice NZ chief executive Wayne Naylor agrees. He also wants the clause clarified and provisions for family bereavement and grief support considered.

Law review does not equal law change

Seymour says the government is not obliged to take any action on the review recommendations nor is Parliament required to debate them. The review in itself won’t change the law.

Furthermore, the coalition government had to “speak with one voice”.

“I know there are people in the Cabinet who would say it would actually conflict with their conscience to have to support this legislation” he says.

Whatever changes are recommended, there are a couple of restrictions Seymour does not want altered.

One is that end-of-life choices are restricted to mentally competent people.

The other is that these people must be adults.

“For me, children have always been out, [and] people who have lost the capacity to decide for themselves are out” he says.


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