Submission to the Justice Select Committee on the End of Life Choice Bill

By Danielle van Dalen February 01, 2018

As Parliament considered David Seymour’s End of Life Choice Bill (prior to passing it through to a public referendum), Maxim Institute made this written submission (one of over 30,000 submissions on the Bill) to the Justice Select Committee, providing an analysis of the Bill and its flaws. Following the written submission, Researcher Danielle van Dalen and then CEO Alex Penk represented this work at an oral submission before the Select Committee.

Maxim Institute

Submission to the Justice Select Committee

The End of Life Choice Bill


Executive Summary

We are opposed to the End of Life Choice Bill. The dangers of this Bill lie at its very core and cannot be fixed. In fact, any legalisation of euthanasia and assisted suicide creates a distinction in law that places the value of some lives above others.

The eligibility criteria outlined in the End of Life Choice Bill are vague and broad and do not offer effective protection for vulnerable people.

  • Terminal illness likely to end his or her life within 6 months: When a person is “six or eight months away from [death], [the prognosis] is pretty desperately hopeless as an accurate factor.”
  • Grievous and irremediable medical condition: Canada’s experience with this terminology has included someone struggling with severe arthritis, while similar legislation in Belgium allowed euthanasia for deaf twins who discovered they were going blind.
  • An advanced state of irreversible decline: While this might seem like an additional safeguard, in practice it merely restates the previous criteria.
  • Unbearable suffering that cannot be relieved in a manner he or she considers tolerable: This criteria is leading to an increasing number of people in The Netherlands seeking euthanasia “due to mental health problems and trauma caused by sexual abuse.”

Despite public promises that the End of Life Choice Bill includes many rigorous safeguards to ensure vulnerable people are protected from abuse, closer analysis shows they are not effective or rigorous.

  • An independent, second medical practitioner’s opinion: In Oregon and Washington this has lead to a selection bias, with a small number of medical practitioners providing euthanasia and assisted suicide for a disproportionately larger number of patients.
  • Conscientious objection and the SCENZ Group: The SCENZ list of medical practitioners have volunteered to practice euthanasia or assisted suicide and as a result are less likely to be objective in providing an opinion on the patient’s eligibility.
  • Competence Measures: Determining a person’s competence is incredibly complex. Research has found that in Oregon “some potentially ineligible patients [may] receive a prescription for a lethal drug.”
  • Freedom from pressure: Detecting pressure requires a long-term relationship with the patient. In both Washington and Oregon, however, some patients only knew their doctor for one week, and in Washington, 52 percent of people cited being a burden on family, friends, and caregivers as a reason for accessing assisted suicide in 2015.
  • Review Committees: Despite the presence of review committees in the Netherlands, “surveys have shown that, … not only have doctors in thousands of cases breached the requirement to report, but they have also ended the lives of thousands of patients without the required request.”

After euthanasia and/or assisted suicide has become law, the number of people who choose to die in this way each year will inevitably grow. In Oregon for example, 24 people received prescriptions for lethal drugs in 1998, of which 16 died, but in 2017, 218 people received prescriptions for lethal drugs, of which 143 died.

Around the world, bills that propose to legalise euthanasia and assisted suicide are rejected much more often than they are passed. In the last year alone, four jurisdictions have rejected euthanasia and assisted suicide legislation, compared to just one jurisdiction where legislation has passed.

New Zealand should reject the End of Life Choice Bill. Our ability to choose how and when we die must be limited to protect those people in our society most susceptible to wrongful death. We need to stand in solidarity with the vulnerable in our society with laws that will do their best to protect them. We can only achieve this protection if the law continues to prohibit euthanasia and assisted suicide.

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