What euthanasia isn’t

Polls show a sizable majority in favour of euthanasia but a new poll shows many don’t understand what it means.

A new Curia Market Research poll shows New Zealanders are confused about what ‘assisted dying’ even means.

“This groundbreaking poll challenges the validity of most other polls on the issue. It shows that support for euphemisms such as ‘assisted dying’, ‘aid in dying’ or ‘assistance to end their life’ should not be taken as support for a law change,” says Renée Joubert, executive officer of Euthanasia-Free NZ.

The more strongly a person supports ‘assisted dying’, the more likely they are confused about what it includes.

Of those who strongly support ‘assisted dying’:

• 85% thought it includes turning off life support

• 79% thought it includes ‘do not resuscitate’ (no CPR) requests

• 67% thought it includes the stopping of medical tests, treatments and surgeries.

In all three cases a person would die from their underlying medical condition – of natural causes.

These ‘end-of-life choices’ are legal and people can make their wishes known via Advance Care Planning.

This might look like angels dancing on a pin head but there is a very important difference between not doing something to prolong life and doing something to end it, withholding treatment that would extend a life and actively cutting it short.

Dr Amanda Landers is a palliative care doctor in the South Island, caring for people with a range of life-limiting conditions. She also gives presentations to nurses, doctors and the general public.

She says that many patients, and even some doctors, are unaware that stopping life-prolonging treatment and medication is legal and ethically acceptable. This means the person dies from their underlying illness – which is completely different from an intervention which deliberately ends their life prematurely.

“I was caring for a man in his 60s who was on peritoneal dialysis. He thought he would be committing euthanasia/suicide by stopping it. This belief was weighing heavily on his mind as he thought it was morally wrong.

“Once I explained to him that stopping dialysis was acceptable and that it would allow a natural death from his underlying illness, he stopped it.

“His family was unaware of his fears of dying by suicide/euthanasia and that he wanted to stop the dialysis. It was a very emotional moment for them when they heard how he was feeling, but ultimately they supported him in his choice.”

ACT MP David Seymour’s End of Life Choice Bill proposes ‘assisted dying’ by administering drugs to end someone’s life, either by injection or ingestion through a tube (euthanasia) or by giving a lethal dose to a person to swallow or administer (assisted suicide).

There are subtle differences between suicide, assisted suicide and euthanasia: It’s suicide when a person ends their own life. It’s assisted suicide when a person receives help to access the means to end their life but then takes the final action themselves. It’s euthanasia when the final action is performed by another person.

Only 62% of the 894 respondents polled thought that ‘assisted dying’ includes receiving deadly drugs to swallow or self-administer (assisted suicide).

Only 68% of respondents thought that ‘assisted dying’ includes receiving deadly drugs by injection (euthanasia).

New Zealanders are significantly less supportive of the administration of lethal drugs to end someone’s life than the notion of ‘assisted dying’ as a whole.

This is asking doctors to kill people.

After hearing which practices the proposed Bill would be limited to, support for ‘assisted dying’ dropped from 62% to 55%, opposition rose from 22% to 26% and unsure/refuse responses rose from 6% to 11%.

“We would expect public support to drop even further when people consider the wider implications and unintended consequences of euthanasia and assisted suicide legislation,” says Ms Joubert.

“A case in point is a 2014 UK ComRes poll which showed that public support for the Falconer Assisted Dying Bill dropped as low as 43% when people heard various arguments against changing the law or were provided with certain facts – for example the fact that six out of ten people requesting a lethal prescription in Washington State said a reason for doing so was their concern about being a burden on friends, family or caregivers.”

Assisted dying, euthanasia . . . call it what you will, it is a very emotional issue.

But as Bill English said during Wednesday evening’s debate, the issue for MPs is one of law.

.  . . I’m sure we’ve all had the experience—I know I have—or know about the experience, of witnessing the suffering, the fear, and the anxiety of a dying person and those around them and, sometimes, a difficult death. Alongside that personal connection, we have to weigh up, in our role as law makers—not just as parents or children or siblings or friends of those who we’ve seen die, but as law makers. Our role is not principally to alleviate suffering; our role is to ensure that our society has a set of laws that protect those who most need protection.

Did you know that in our law, section 179 of the Crimes Act, it is a crime to induce the suicide of another person, even if they don’t actually commit it—even if they don’t actually commit it? Why is that there? Because we don’t want people encouraging a depressed disabled young person that their life isn’t worth anything. As law makers, the reason there is a blanket prohibition is because “you” are not always the best judge of the value of your life, and the price that our community pays for enabling a doctor to take your life, free of criminal scrutiny, is that many other people are more vulnerable. Their lives will become more fearful, and they’ll become more subject to the pressure to make the judgment themselves that their life has less value and therefore they should make the decision. It is a slippery slope. That is why this bill, with its cold technical bureaucratic process of death, tries to look like it’s safe.

We have to weigh it up, and every Parliament up to now has said that the balance between what is enabled for an individual and the cost of that enablement to the rest of society is too big a risk to take. I put the case that as law makers that is the question that we need to weigh up: is the gain in personal autonomy—because the research shows people embark on euthanasia principally for autonomy reasons; they may not be suffering that much—worth the broader cost to our community? I don’t think anyone can in their heart of hearts believe that this bill will make life safer for the disabled or that it will make our community more warmly embracing of our ageing population. Who pretends that? It won’t—it won’t.

That is why I will oppose it and invite others to. You know, we’re not creating medical procedure here; we’re creating an exemption from the criminal law against killing for a specified group—that is doctors, who do not want to carry this burden—under some conditions that amount to box-ticking. So I ask the Parliament to consider that very carefully—the removal of the blanket prohibition against taking a life, which should be subject to scrutiny and accountability.

Euthanasia isn’t turning of life support.

It’s not adhering to do-not-resuscitate requests.

It’s not stopping treatment.

All those happen now and are both ethical and legal.

What doesn’t happen now is deliberately acting to end a life.

Proponents of euthanasia talk about a person’s right to die.

We all have the right to die.

What we don’t have is the right to kill and that’s what this Bill would give to doctors if it becomes law.

18 Responses to What euthanasia isn’t

  1. Andrei says:

    Well said Ele

    This is the latest abomination to come down the pike – I predicted this some years ago and you were skeptical

    The truth is we are isolated from the reality of Death and don’t accept that it is a reality

    People talk about “premature deaths” from things they don’t approve of but something gets everyone

    They talk about “quality of life” but again “quality of life” declines as you age depending on how you define it – I used to love hunting in the mountains, would still love it but it is beyond my capabilities now – so I should get myself put down like a worn out racehorse?

    Those of us who are awake knows where this leads – the criteria get looser and looser and more and more people will get the needle as time goes on

    In Belgium quite young people are being euthanized for suffering from depression and that says it all

    But we will loose this one just like we lost the battle to retain real marriage

  2. Mark Hubbard says:

    For goodness sake Ele. I don’t believe in Christ. I will know when my life has no value *to me*. My choice, at that stage, for death with dignity doesn’t affect you, and is none of your business. You prattle on about the controlling left, you Christian conservatives, but when it comes to one of the most important parts of our lives, our dying, you would force your values on me via law without even thinking.

    Not damned good enough.

    The No-vote shouldn’t have a say in this rights-based debate, because those of us who want it having choice doesn’t affect you. You can suffer for your God as much as you like. But remember, while you force this, you force people like Rosie Mott (Google) to die in some of the most heinous circumstances (plastic bag over her head), with her husband standing on the sidewalk so as not to face criminal prosecution. I’m disgusted by the meddling, inhumane no-vote.

    And please, don’t argue this on bullshit semantics. Those of us who want the choice are not simpletons.

  3. Bev says:

    Am totally against this becoming law, good on Bill English for making the one sensible stand! It’s nothing but assisted suicide, a complete sin, no matter how its spun or excused. What a twisted world, when assisted dying is becoming law in the West.

  4. Bev says:

    I also agree that we will lose this one, we have no chance, just like all the other social engineering laws that have been force fed to us in the past decade or two. Dangerous stuff, but it will happen. Sometimes I wish it was still 1950, the last sensible decade!

  5. Mark Hubbard says:

    Bev. I don’t have your Christian beliefs, indeed, I think they’re ridiculous. So tell me why you have the right to force your archaic values on me? I’m absolutely happy to allow you freedom to practice your religion; how come you won’t give me the freedom of my secular choices and goddamned rights over my own body?

  6. Andrei says:

    I don’t have your Christian beliefs, indeed, I think they’re ridiculous. So tell me why you have the right to force your archaic values on me?

    The National Man Boy Love Association could deploy exactly the same argument to justify why we should change the law to cater to their desires

    The truth is my friend that if you wish to end your life you are free to do so, nobody is stopping you – but don’t involve us or anyone else in your choice. If you make this choice don’t force me to give you my blessing because I wont

    You are so invested in getting what you want that you are oblivious to the dangers it poses to the weak and vulnerable which are manifest to those of us not mislead by innocuous sounding phrases like “Death with Dignity”

  7. Mark Hubbard says:

    Andrei’s reply is utterly despicable in the context of the euthansia debate. You’re debating from the gutter mate. I believe in a free society, yes, but rights only attain to consenting adults, not children – the role of parents is to exercise judgement on behalf of their children.

    But thank you, Andrei, for showing all readers the reprehensible level of the Churches vicious position on this issue.

    Here’s what I plan to do. I’m going to try and raise a referendum demanding that the vote be taken off Christians, because I think they use their vote to force their values on others. What do we think of that proposition? If you all feel so free to deny me rights that don’t affect you, then I’m buggered why I should support freedom of religion.

    [Actually, Andrei, you’re sheer evil. But sadly, in my experience, a good example of a Christian.]

  8. Mark Hubbard says:

    Oh, and to address the one point Andrei made: the argument I am free to kill myself is barbaric. What that means is people like Rosie Mott are forced into violent, and often not successful deaths. Worse, they have to die alone. A civilised euthanasia allows the terminally ill to die peacefully with their loved ones.

    Same answer to the answer oft given answer people can stop medication and starve themselves to death. Do Christians even understand compassion? Another well known case in NZ is the Sth African doctor who watched his terminally ill mother trying to starve herself to death over more than a month. In the end it was such an appalling death he, thankfully, helped her out. And he lost everything when he was then prosecuted.

    This thread makes me feel sick. But I guess that Christianity, as practiced without compassion through the ages.

  9. Mark Hubbard says:

    Sorry to break this up, but I was so angry after Andrei’s appalling opening comparison I had trouble wanting to get through the rest. The concern for the vulnerable is worthy, but misplaced: I’ve read a huge amount of overseas literature and it is easy to create safeguards around this, which David’s bill does well.

    But I’ll play devil’s advocate. We all know that over 300 people will die over next 12 months on our roads: by same logic is anyone here advocating we not be allowed cars? Of course not. Yes we have to have safeguards, and there are, but that’s a side issue to the principle premise whereby I have the right of choice; everything then flows from that, including appropriate safeguards.

  10. Andrei says:

    You know Mark when “progressives”</i. such as yourself encounter an argument you cannot counter the default position is OUTRAGE!.

    Outrage and ad hominem

    “Actually, Andrei, you’re sheer evil. But sadly, in my experience, a good example of a Christian”

    Here’s the thing – your South African doctor gave his mother a large dose of morphine and nobody noticed – she was dying and she died – the world moved on until he decided to make a big deal of what he had done for political purposes

    As you say I’m a Christian man and what I’d say about that South African Doctor is that eventually he will have to account for his actions on the Day of Judgement. He made his choices and if he had left it at that nobody would have given a damn

    When people I have cared about have died in their last days and hours choices are made as to how to treat them and make them comfortable – we do not need to look too deeply at these choices and their consequences.

    And the very last thing we need is politicians trying to legislate these choices – they are medical choices to be made with the patient if possible, the patients family and the medical staff

    Our host on this blog made some heart wrenching choices regarding the treatment of her sons – choices I believe were the right ones.

    I know this because she has posted on this and perhaps she will point you at her posts, that is for her to do not me.

    Those of us who oppose this legislation have good reasons for doing so.

    We are not heartless or evil – and we have been there with our loved ones when their time arrived

  11. Mark Hubbard says:

    I’m furtherest thing from progressive.

    However, you, who would sound off at the snowflakes for wanting to force their values on you, want only to force your values on me. You’re a hypocrite who is no different to every progressive SJW I debate on any other topic.

    My choice of euthanasia has no consequences/harm for you. You have no right to bully my choices with values I do not hold.

    Out of this debate, I’m growing to hate meddling Christians. You’re as contemptible as two-faced.

    I wash my hands of this thread. And have no respect for the participants who have no respect for my life and my volition.

  12. Bev says:

    Whatever your beliefs or not, isn’t it just common sense that assisted suicide is wrong? Once this law is passed, there will be unintended consequences, as is happening overseas. Life is valuable, a gift, and only nature should have a hand in ending it.
    Why do doctors go out of their way to save lives? The old and vulnerable will indeed be talked into ending lives they don’t really want to end, this law relies too much on human nature being inherently good. I can’t believe such a law is even being contemplated, and I know plenty of non-Christians who also don’t agree with it. If it is such a wonderful idea, then how come earlier generations would never ever even contemplate it? We are now in an age where anything goes and all is acceptable!

  13. homepaddock says:

    Mark – this isn’t about anyone’s right to die, it’s about giving people the right to kill others.

    Andrei, I can’t find the posts you refer to, you’re welcome to share them if you know where they are. The short version is I gave permission for doctors to not give treatment that would have prolonged the life of one son and to not try to resuscitate the other.

    That’s not uncommon practice, it’s ethical, it’s legal and it’s not euthanasia.

  14. Mark Hubbard says:

    Oh rubbish, Ele. I can tell you with certainty, as would Lecretia Searle’s partner, there are many compassionate doctors who would offer this service here (as with overseas). Your emotive use of ‘kill’ is typical Christian dishonesty on this issue: everything about voluntary euthanasia is consensual. Really pissed off with you.

    I’m happy to allow your freedom to practice religion, no matter how ridiculous – and as an ex-Exclusive Brethren, I would also say evil – . I think that is. You give me the same respect, otherwise there’s no free society, just those SJW’s and your dreadful lot, all thinking you can force your values on the rest of us. Not bloody good enough by half.

  15. Mark Hubbard says:

    By the way, read all my comments above. What you mean is you’re happy to see someone painfully starve to death over more than a month. That’s disgusting, frankly. And barbaric. Christianity is coming out of this debate, real bad.

  16. Mark Hubbard says:

    But, re your sons, Ele, I’d not known that. My sympathies. [Apologies, I’d written above two comments after reading your first paragraph only. And this doesn’t change anything else I’ve said.]

  17. homepaddock says:

    Mark, I’ve read all your comments carefully, including the one with sympathy, thank you. It appears from what you wrote you see this as black and white, but life and death aren’t cut and dried.

    The Bill would allow euthanasia in patients with less than six months to live, but medical science can’t always predict life expectancy acurately.

    My sons had brain disorders, the first died at 20 weeks. When the second showed the same symptoms it was assumed he had the same condition and would live a similar time. In spite of not achieving any developmental milestones ie being able to do nothing more than a newborn; nearly dying several times when, on medical advice, he wasn’t treated, he lived until 10 days after his 5th birthday. He defied all predictions for life expectancy based on the best medical knowledge available. If the Bill now under consideration had been enacted then, my understanding is he would have been a candidate for euthanasia from very soon after his birth. Our lives would have been easier had he died sooner, but I don’t want the state to allow doctors to kill people to make other people’s lives easier.

    A more recent example of an adult, able to make her own decisions: A woman I know was in the very last stages of life with hours or at the most a very few days to live with her liver riddled with cancer. At the 11th hour she was given a new drug and now more than a year later has no cancer in her liver and is living a happy, healthy life.

    I don’t want anyone dying in agony or despair. The best solution to that is properly trained staff giving properly funded care. That includes increasing medication for pain relief to levels that will result in death, as already happens.

  18. Safeguards and guidelines are bound to fail. Government safeguards will not stop people suffering from depression from seeking PAS. Doctors will be placed in the terrible position of making judgement calls. Who can die and who will live? How close should a terminal cancer patient be to death before the lethal dose is administered?

    If all depends on autonomy – to decide for one’s self the time to die, what is the point of safeguards? People will find a way around them.

    What if people are asking for PAS out of a sense of duty, because they feel they are a burden? What if they are being pressured into the decision? What if they are demented or unconscious or mentally handicapped? Safeguards and guidelines will not protect them.

    We ought to err on the side of caution. Let’s concentrate on eliminating the suffering, not eliminating the sufferer. This is true compassion.

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