Life and death consequences of shoddy legislation
Now that the Justice Select Committee have reported back to Parliament on the End of Life Choice Bill, our MPs are left with a tough job to do. The report has recommended a few technical changes to ensure the Bill is workable in practice, but has left broader policy changes for the Committee of the Whole House to decide.
This might give MPs the impression that the Bill can still be fixed, and that the collective members of Parliament with all of their different political agendas and ideas can work together to create strong safeguards against any possible abuse of the Bill. But this isn’t how good policy is made.
We’ll essentially have 120 MPs trying to agree, where 8 members of the Justice Select Committee could not.
If the End of Life Choice Bill passes Second Reading and reaches the Committee of the Whole House, we’ll essentially have 120 MPs trying to agree, where 8 members of the Justice Select Committee could not, on how to provide the strongest safeguards against abuse. This process is likely to leave New Zealand with a Bill that is inconsistent and unable to provide real protection for vulnerable people.
Our MPs will be faced with difficult questions of who is and who is not eligible, and where to draw the line. They only need to look to the Report to see the complexity of trying to provide effective safeguards. For example, the Report states that to ensure consistency with the Bill of Rights Act, rather than limiting the eligibility criteria to people aged 18 years and over, the age limit could be reduced to 16 or removed altogether. On the other hand, medical organisations submitted that “at 18, a person has not yet reached full cognitive maturity.” Meanwhile, submitters had “often contrasting” concerns about the conscientious objection of doctors, some claiming that it should be extended to organisations like Hospice who are opposed to the Bill, while others submitted that it should only be used by an individual to prevent institutions from banning the practice.
“To create exceptions [to the law], based on arbitrary criteria such as terminal illness or mental capacity, is to create lines in the sand, easily crossed and hard to defend.”
The challenge of creating watertight safeguards will only become greater in the the complex political contest of amendments and debate in Committee of the Whole House; a messy and unreliable process due to the competing priorities and ideologies at play. As Baroness Elizabeth Butler-Sloss has said, “To create exceptions [to the law], based on arbitrary criteria such as terminal illness or mental capacity, is to create lines in the sand, easily crossed and hard to defend.”
If our MPs really want to consider euthanasia and assisted suicide legislation properly, playing politics and fighting over votes for different amendments is not the way to do it. They need to remember that if we get this wrong there will be wrongful deaths. And that’s not something we can reverse, or pay remuneration for.
Of course, MPs have the opportunity to recognise the importance of good policy. The best answer to this inadequate and unworkable Bill is to vote against it at Second Reading, stopping the Bill in its tracks before we introduce poorly written legislation with life and death consequences.