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Is the Government Serious about Suicide Prevention?

How can the government be serious about supporting its Suicide Prevention Strategy while at the same time the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister and an overwhelming number of government MPs support government sanctioned and funded doctor assisted suicide?

A total of 668 people died by suicide in New Zealand in 2017/18 Our suicide statistics are appalling, as we have the highest youth suicide rate in the 41 member OECD. Suicide is a very serious national health issue, it affects families and communities. The government recognises the seriousness of this crisis and funds every year the Suicide Prevention Strategy which has as its objective reducing the number of suicides..

In December 2018 a total of 37 Labour MPs including the Prime Minister and nine NZ First MPs voted to support the End of Life Choice bill at its first reading. This Private Member’s bill of David Seymour seeks to legalise assisted suicide for those who have a serious terminal illness or irremediable disability. The Prime Minister has said that she will support the bill at its second reading. How can the Prime Minister say that she was wary of sending any message, “that there was a tolerance for suicide in New Zealand.” Is she not giving a message to the community that she supports suicide for the seriously ill and disabled?

The government is commended for including in the 2019 budget funding for suicide prevention; specifically $40m for Maori and Pasifika suicide prevention, more suicide prevention services in district health boards, bereavement counselling and a review of the Coroner’s data-sharing service.

Free counselling for up to 2,500 people is to be provided (four sessions per person) for those who have lost a loved one to suicide. The Ministry of Health is finalising a draft national suicide prevention strategy under urgency. Is the government proposing to provide government funded counselling to the loved ones of those who might receive government approved and funded assisted suicide if the EOLC is passed?

The government’s Suicide Prevention Strategy 2017 defines suicide as, “a death where evidence shows that the person deliberately brought about their own death”. . The strategy does not seek to define suicide as a rational or irrational act. All suicide is irrational.

The He Aranga report recommended that the government set a target for the Governments Suicide Prevention Strategy to reduce the suicide rate by 20 per cent by 2030. The Minister of Health, the Hon Dr David Clark stated, “We’re not prepared to sign up to a suicide target because every life matters, and one death by suicide is one too many … this Government is committed to tackling our terrible record on suicide.”

The Prime Minister is commended for stating ,”We were very wary of sending any message, particularly to bereaved families, that there was a tolerance for suicide in New Zealand. Every single life matters and it’s important for us to send that message,” The government is going to set up an office of suicide prevention. If this bill supported by the Prime Minister is passed it will set up a Euthanasia Review Committee to review the lawfulness of assisted suicides, is this not contradictory to the purpose of Suicide Prevention Strategy?

How though can the government on one hand say that they are going to invest $40 million on a Suicide Prevention Strategy to reduce suicide in New Zealand, while on the other hand invest in providing doctor assisted suicide. This would be the eventuality should the EOLCB be passed, that will empower doctors to kill their patients or assist in their suicide.

Ken Orr
Spokesperson,
Right to Life

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