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Lawyers support amendments to ELOC Bill

Wellington, 20 August 2019 — Lawyers for Vulnerable New Zealanders (LVNZ) has lent its support to the amendments proposed by MP Chris Penk to better protect vulnerable people from being coerced to end their lives under the End of Life Choice Bill, currently being debated in Parliament.

Mr Penk, the MP for Helensville, today introduced a Supplementary Order Paper proposing to establish an Independent Panel of Practitioners, a specialist body of qualified professionals with expertise in areas relevant to assessing potential coercion of the vulnerable. The Independent Panel would be charged with carrying out proper due diligence before confirming that someone’s life could be ended by euthanasia.

Panel members would include experts in law, medicine (including geriatric care and adolescent mental health), psychology, social work and elder abuse. A committee of four panellists would be formed to review each request. Panel members would be appointed by the Governor-General on the advice of the Attorney-General, after consultation with the Minister of Justice, the Minister of Health and the Minister of Seniors.

The Panel would be able to talk to the person’s previous medical doctors, relevant family members and the person themselves. It could refer the person for a psychiatric assessment to ensure they were making the decision without coercion. And it could also consider relevant personal circumstances, including the applicant’s living situation, will and financial affairs.

“This is a very constructive amendment that exposes the very real risks posed to vulnerable New Zealanders by the End of Life Choice Bill,” says LVNZ’s Richard McLeod. “While Courts in the UK have found that even a court-based process for detecting coercion isn’t foolproof, the Independent Panel proposed by Mr Penk would at the very least have the experience and expertise to try and mitigate the otherwise dangerous and harmful effects of the Bill in its current form. Coercion and elder abuse are too prevalent and the ending of a life too serious a matter to leave such a grave determination to a single unsupported medical practitioner with a direction that they just ‘do their best’, which is what the Bill in its current form does. That’s both irresponsible and dangerous.

“We continue to hold very grave concerns over numerous aspects of this Bill. However, Chris Penk’s proposed amendment at least tries to bring better and more balanced oversight of a request to end a life. It enables the Independent Panel to draw upon specialists with knowledge relevant to each applicant’s case, so that appropriately qualified experts can make better-informed and considered decisions that might go some way towards protecting greater numbers of vulnerable people from coercion or abuse.”

“This amendment provides a practical and reasonable response to a complex, difficult situation, one where a rushed and flawed decision could have the most severe consequences,” says McLeod. “Importantly, the Independent Panel would also provide regular, critical information to Parliament and New Zealanders over the progress and pitfalls of the proposed euthanasia regime - surely all New Zealanders have a vested interest in knowing whether vulnerable Kiwis are being impacted by this proposed law.”

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