If we vote in favour of the End of Life Choice Act, is that going to be the end of the debate?

November 01, 2021

International experience certainly shows that over time the law itself can change, and in doing so, this will increase the risk to vulnerable people. 

• The Belgian law was initially limited to those aged 18 and over, with a clause for children aged 15 and over who were emancipated from their parents. The law was changed in 2014 so that there is now no reference to age as criteria and children of any age can be assisted to die.[1]
• The Netherlands have announced their intention to introduce a law to allow euthanasia for those aged 65 and over who are “tired of life” but not necessarily terminally ill.[2]
• There have been increasing numbers of euthanasia and assisted suicide cases on the basis of psychiatric conditions and early-stage as well as advanced stage dementia from the Netherlands, despite the disapproval of most Dutch psychiatrists to euthanasia for those with psychiatric conditions.[3]
• In 2018 reports were tabled in the Canadian parliament considering expanding the law to mature minors, advance requests, and requests where a mental disorder is the sole underlying medical condition.[4]
• In Oregon the 15-day waiting period between oral requests for patients with less than 15 days to live was removed in 2019.[5]
• The Groningen Protocol, introduced in the Netherlands in 2005, now gives doctors and parents the right to determine if a baby’s life will be “worth living,” and euthanise them if not.[6]
• A Dutch ethicist, Berna van Baarsen, resigned her position on the regional euthanasia committee “in protest at the growing role of advance directives for people unable to express their wishes.”[7]

Can we expect the same trends in New Zealand?

When looking at the experience, and especially the failures, of other jurisdictions some may argue that New Zealand is somehow uniquely placed to resist these trends and failures. The reality, however, is that the proposed End of Life Choice Act contains no preventative measures that are significantly different from other jurisdictions that have evidence of wrongful death. Every jurisdiction has attempted to eliminate the risks and uncertainties inherent in the practice of euthanasia and assisted suicide, and none have succeeded. 

We must learn from the experience of jurisdictions where euthanasia and/or assisted suicide has been legislated and acknowledge there is no reason to think the same trends won’t happen here. The continually expanding laws and practices in The Netherlands, Belgium, Canada, and even Oregon should give us reason to pause.


[1] RT News, “Children’s euthanasia bill signed by Belgium King,” (5 March 2014) available at: https://www.rt.com/news/belgium-king-sign-euthanasia-bill-566/ accessed 26/03/20

[2] Government of the Netherlands, “Government scope for assisted suicide for people who regard their life as completed,” (12 October 2016) available at: https://www.government.nl/topics/euthanasia/news/2016/10/21/government-scope-for-assisted-suicide-for-people-who-regard-their-life-as-completed accessed 26/03/20

[3] “How Dutch Law Got a Little Too Comfortable with Euthanasia,” The Atlantic, (8 June 2019) available at: https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2019/06/noa-pothoven-and-dutch-euthanasia-system/591262/ accessed 6/4/20; “The troubled 29-year-old helped to die by Dutch doctors,” BBC (9 August 2018), available at: https://www.bbc.com/news/stories-45117163 accessed 6/4/20; Regional Review Committees, “Annual Report 2018” (27 January 2020) available at: https://english.euthanasiecommissie.nl/the-committees/documents/publications/annual-reports/2002/annual-reports/annual-reports accessed 6/4/20

[4] Department of Justice Canada, “Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould and Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor Table in Parliament the Independent Reviews Related to Medical Assistance in Dying,” (December 12 2018) available at: https://www.canada.ca/en/department-justice/news/2018/12/minister-jody-wilson-raybould-and-minister-ginette-petitpas-taylor-table-in-parliament-the-independent-reviews-related-to-medical-assistance-in-dying.html Accessed 26/03/20

[5] Oregon State Legislature, SB579 Relating to Death with Dignity, available at: https://olis.leg.state.or.us/liz/2019R1/Measures/Overview/SB579 accessed 26/03/20

[6] G van Loenen, Do you call this a life? Blurred Boundaries in the Netherlands’ Right-to-Die laws (London, Ontario: Ross Lattner Educational Consultants, 2015), 26-28

[7] “Three euthanasia cases face investigation in Netherlands,” The Guardian (23 June 2019) available at: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/jun/23/three-netherlands-euthanasia-cases-investigated accessed 6/4/20

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