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Letter from Doctors for End of Life Choice

A group of doctors who support a law change to allow medically-assisted dying for the terminally ill has accused the New Zealand Medical Association of ignoring international evidence on the issue in favour of “conservative cultural and personal beliefs”.

The group accuses the NZMA board, which opposes the End of Life Choice Bill before Parliament, “of being no more advanced than the ‘anti-vaxers’ or the ‘anti-1080 lobby’, whose beliefs cannot be impinged upon by science, fact or rational thinking.”

The charges are made in a letter to Dr Kate Baddock, chair of the NZMA, signed by Dr Miles Williams, cardiologist of Hastings, and 18 other practising and retired doctors.

He says the 133-year-old NZMA has “been on the wrong side of history in the past, for example in taking conservative, paternalistic and moralistic approaches on issues such as contraception and abortion”.

Dr Williams says that in claiming that no end-of-life choice legislation could be safe, the NZMA is “asserting the superior intellect, insight, analytical powers and judgement of the six members of a small parochial New Zealand board whose collective knowledge and experience of this subject is likely to be limited to discussions around the boardroom table” over that of the judiciaries of countries and states in Europe, the Americas, Canada and Australia, representing more than 150 million people.

In the letter, released shortly before Parliament resumes debate on the bill on July 31, Dr Williams says: “It is important that the New Zealand public is made aware that there is absolutely no contemporary evidence to support any aspect of your opposition to giving the people of this country the right to End of Life Choice.

“It has been successfully implemented in many countries, none of whom have reversed their legislation. It is not unethical, there is no evidence in the literature of coercion, increased suicide rates, distrust of doctors, exploitation of the vulnerable, or of wrongful deaths.

“In all of these countries and states the practice is subject to government-controlled audit. Your dismissal of polls, not only in this country, but of those undertaken in many nations around the world, showing that the majority of people in these countries understand and support EOLC, represents blatant and unapologetic paternalism.”

The NZMA opposed the bill in a submission to the Justice Select Committee in February 2018 and in an interview Dr Baddock gave on TV1’s Breakfast programme on May 22. Dr Williams said “the quality and accuracy” of the statements she made “fell well short of the standards aspired to by the NZMA”.

The NZMA claims to be the country's only pan-professional medical organisation representing the collective interests of all doctors and a strong advocate on medico-political issues.

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