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Doctors support assisted dying

Seventeen doctors who say too many New Zealanders die in severe pain and suffering have written to all MPs urging them to vote for a law change to allow medical assistance in dying (MAID).

Parliament’s Justice Select Committee is due to report on ACT leader David Seymour’s End of Life Choice Bill this month after considering a record 37,000 submissions.

Dr Jack Havill, of Hamilton, spokesman for the group, said it wrote to MPs in order to counter a campaign by opposing medical practitioners who are trying to sabotage the bill. He said the “Drs say No” campaigners had emailed every medical practice but obtained only 800 signatures from the country’s 15,000 registered medical practitioners since it was formed in 2012.

Dr Havill said the number of doctors supporting MAID exceeded the 37% in favour, with 11% undecided, revealed in a survey by the NZ Doctor magazine last year.

Ten of the doctors who wrote to MPs are retired. Dr Havill said: “It is a difficult issue and many practising doctors in favour will not express their views publicly because it is currently illegal.

“They do not want to be classed with the approximately 4% of doctors who break the law to help patients die in their final illness – according to two Auckland University studies.”

Dr Havill, a retired intensive care medicine specialist and past president of the Voluntary Euthanasia Society, said enough doctors were in favour to ensure that MAID would work effectively in New Zealand. International experience showed the number would grow after a law change, he said.

One doctor who signed the letter, retired GP Carol Shand, of Wellington, told the MPs: “My years in general practice, unable to support the requests of many patients for assistance in dying, have left me ashamed of myself, my profession and our NZ law.”

Rowan Stephens, a former GP from Auckland, said: “I carry a lingering guilt into retirement knowing that I was not always able to best serve my patients at the end of their life, due to the law. I failed in my duty, and did cause harm.”

The End of Life Choice Bill passed its first reading in Parliament by 76-44 votes in December 2017. Seymour has amended it so that if it passes its final stage, a law change will be subject to a binding referendum at next year’s general election.

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