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Assisted suicide legislation contradicts suicide prevention

Assisted suicide legislation contradicts suicide prevention

Euthanasia-Free NZ supports World Suicide Prevention Day (10 September) and welcomes the plans by District Health Boards to improve the ways they prevent and respond to suicide.

New Zealand’s high suicide rate, especially among young people, Maori and the elderly, is of grave concern. In addition, the suicide rate in rural Waikato has tripled and some expect the number of suicides in farming communities to increase even further this year.

Euthanasia-Free NZ agrees with Health Minister Dr Jonathan Coleman that “reducing suicide rates requires coordinated action at a national and local level”. Such coordinated action includes upholding the current legislation that prohibits the encouragement and facilitation of suicide.

Legalising “assisted dying” or “end of life choice” (euphemisms for assisted suicide), would send conflicting messages about suicide: that some suicides are to be prevented and others are to be assisted. Arguments for legal “assisted dying” affirm assisted suicide as an acceptable solution to unbearable life-problems. But surely every suicide, whether assisted or lone, is the outcome of perceived unbearable suffering by a person? So what would be the point of encouraging one and discouraging the other?

The DHB initiative confirms that doctors and health institutions play a key role in preventing suicide. It would be inappropriate and counterproductive to make it legal for the medical profession to help patients end their lives.

“Even among terminally ill and disabled people a persistent desire to die is extremely rare”, says Prof David Richmond, a retired geriatrician and a spokesperson for Euthanasia-Free NZ. “In almost all cases such desires disappear when a person receives good care. Retaining a blanket ban on assisted suicide is appropriate.”

The current Health Select Committee inquiry on “ending one’s life in New Zealand” is very timely. It is a great opportunity for New Zealanders to discuss the factors that contribute to people desiring to end their lives. The Committee is also requesting feedback on the effectiveness of existing services and support available to those who desire to end their own lives.

Most importantly, the Committee is investigating public attitudes to suicide and assisted suicide. Do New Zealanders support the notion that suicide should be discouraged and prevented? Or, should the law be changed to allow a person to encourage and help someone else to end his or her life?

More information on how to engage in the submission process is available at http://tiny.cc/termsofreference.


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