Vulnerable people must be protected from euthanasia coercion
20 August 2019
New amendments must be inserted into the End of Life Choice Bill to better protect vulnerable people from being coerced to end their lives, says the sponsor of those amendments, Chris Penk MP.
“The current protections written into the bill pay lip service to the concept of protection,” Mr Penk says. “When it comes to ending someone’s life, Parliament must make sure that it is that person’s own clear and free choice, and not anyone else’s. We owe it to vulnerable New Zealanders to make sure there is a robust process capable of clearly establishing that the decision is solely their decision, before their life is ended.”
Mr Penk’s amendment proposes new conditions that must be satisfied before confirming that someone’s life will be ended by euthanasia, including proper due diligence by a new, specialist body to be known as the Independent Panel of Practitioners.
“With its members to include experts in medicine, law, social work and elder abuse, the Panel would convene to consider requests for euthanasia and report on those,” Mr Penk says.
“Evidence available to the Panel would be gained by talking to the person’s previous medical doctors, relevant family members, and the person themselves. It could also involve referring the person for a psychiatric assessment to ensure they are making the decision without coercion. And it should certainly also involve considering relevant personal circumstances, their living situation, their will and their financial affairs.
“I’ve proposed specific tests that must be considered; to ensure the request to end the person’s life has not come about through family neglect, institutional neglect, societal neglect, a mental health condition, failures of the health system, or because someone else stands to gain financially from the person dying.
“I’m sure reasonable parliamentary colleagues will agree that these are not grounds for someone to be encouraged to end their lives.”
Mr Penk says he make no apologies for proposing more prescriptive and thorough tests in the bill to reduce the risk of coercion or abuse.
“There will be MPs that consider these protections go too far. However, in its current form the Bill’s claimed safeguard for detecting coercion is utterly inadequate. It is untenable that one doctor could or should have to shoulder the enormous burden of having to work out if their patient is being pressured into requesting assisted dying. I believe colleagues who are truly concerned about the risks to vulnerable people of a poorly regulated euthanasia regime will support some or all of these changes.”
“While there is no foolproof way of protecting vulnerable people from the risk of abuse or coercion in a bill like this, we must make no apology as a parliament for doing our utmost to reduce that risk.
“Vulnerable people must not be persuaded to end their lives because of a poorly written law and we MPs have a responsibility not to put vulnerable people in such a situation.
“As a lawyer prior to entering Parliament, I was always conscious of the need to protect against coercion, duress and undue influence being applied to vulnerable people, sadly often by family members closest to them.”