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New Zealand voters to decide in September referendum if doctors can kill sick patients

The law would allow medical practitioners to accommodate death requests for terminal and, in some cases, non-terminal conditions.
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Martin M. Barillas By Martin M. Barillas

Martin M. Barillas By Martin M. Barillas

AUCKLAND, New Zealand, January 29, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) – Voters will decide whether to legalize the practice of doctors killing sick patients, making New Zealand the first country in the world to decide on euthanasia via referendum.

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced the referendum, which will be held September 19. On the same day, voters will decide whether to return Ardern to power. 

If the euthanasia referendum passes with more than 50 percent of the vote, the End of Life Choice Act of 2019 would go into effect exactly one year after the results are finalized. Currently, the aiding and abeting of suicide is illegal, according to New Zealand’s criminal code.

If the new euthanasia law goes pass, it would allow doctors to prescribe a lethal dose of substances to patients requesting death who are believed to have less than six months to live. 

According to the bill, a person is eligible for assisted killing when he or she “is in an advanced state of irreversible decline in physical capability, experiences unbearable suffering that cannot be relieved in a manner that the person considers tolerable” and “is competent to make an informed decision about assisted dying.” The bill would allow a medical practitioner to administer the death-dealing substances to the patient.

It prohibits euthanasia in cases when patients are disabled, elderly, mentally ill, or have a mental disorder. 

Voluntary euthanasia is legal in Canada, Belgium, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Switzerland, and several U.S. states. Non-voluntary and involuntary euthanasia are illegal worldwide and mostly seen as murder, even while there have been reports that babies diagnosed with certain disabilities have been at times abandoned and left without treatment by physicians in the Netherlands. 

In New Zealand, the Catholic bishops warned against euthanasia in a 2011 statement. They noted that they had written in 1995: "Euthanasia occurs when a doctor, not an illness, kills a patient."

“At that time we drew attention to a very important distinction: it is one thing to withhold or withdraw extraordinary methods of keeping a person alive when it is no longer sensible to do so; it is another thing to do something, or omit to do something for the purpose of terminating a person's life,” the bishops wrote. “In the former case, we are simply allowing a person to die. In the latter case, we are killing.”

The bishops said that because society views suffering as meaningless and intolerable, “euthanasia is presented as a way of avoiding suffering. This can be made to look like an attractive option, or even a right.” Introducing legalized killing for those who are suffering would introduce, they wrote, “a whole new, and dangerous, dimension to society.”

Legalizing euthanasia, they argued, would initiate a slippery slope already witnessed in other countries that allow the practice. They noted that while euthanasia was once made available in the Netherlands to dying adults with terminal illness, “lethal injections can now be given to newborns and teenagers with disabilities, as well as to persons with dementia and depression. In some of these cases, there is no explicit request from the person concerned for euthanasia.”

Advances in palliative care, the bishops wrote, mean that no one needs to die in pain.

“The real moral imperative is on us all to be bearers of hope and to offer selfless care to all those who are sick,” they continued, saying, “disabled and dying while ensuring that there are adequate resources for palliative care.”

Finally, they stated, “We do not need euthanasia. We need to promote equitable access to good palliative care for all New Zealanders. We need to learn how to live well and die well.”

Writing at EuthanasiaDebate.org, retired Dr. David Richmond wrote that he fears the bill would diminish the trust between physicians and their patients. The website expressed special concern for the dangers that euthanasia poses to elderly persons:

“Abuse of disabled and elderly people is a serious issue in New Zealand and in other Western nations. Legalising euthanasia would put them further at risk, especially when there is increasing pressure on the health budget. Coercion to die would be a form of abuse that may be particularly difficult to detect.”

Feb. 3, 2020 correction: A previous version of this report stated that the “bill also would allow those who have a non-terminal, ‘grievous and irremediable medical condition’ to request lethal euthanasia.” This information was not correct. Only those with a terminal illness who are believed to have less than six months to live or less are eligible to apply. LifeSiteNews regrets this error. 


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