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July 2013

Euthanasia bill under party pressure

By | Recent News

NZ Herald 17 July 2013
Labour MP Maryan Street is under pressure to drop a member’s bill which would legalise euthanasia because her party is concerned it could be a negative distraction in the lead-up to the general election next year. If Ms Street’s End of Life Choice Bill was pulled from the ballot, the debate could extend into election year, and some Labour MPs felt this could hurt the party’s run for Government by distracting from its main policies and deterring more conservative voters.
Ms Street said that several colleagues had discussed with her what would happen if the bill were pulled from the ballot in 2014. “They have been very sympathetic and they know it is my decision whether it stays in the ballot or not. The issue is that it could be a distraction from our key messages … and I have to weigh that up, I have to think about that.” She argued that it would be a distraction for all parties, and the debate would affect not just Labour. Asked whether she planned to withdraw the bill, Ms Street said she would consult with the pro-euthanasia group End of Life Choice, which had asked her to draft the bill.
A spokeswoman for the group, Yvonne Shaw, said the organisation had been lobbying for a change for 30 years and public support was now overwhelming for a law change. Another lobby group, Exit International, said that if the bill were withdrawn it would be a setback for legal, voluntary euthanasia in this country. Auckland spokeswoman Fern MacKenzie said: “I understand that [Labour] would be nervous – it’s a little bit controversial. But it could get votes for Labour, too.”
Ms Street said that a full and rational debate on the bill was needed, and she was also concerned that the discussion could be too emotional if it came up in the lead-up to an election. “I’m sure that there are more people who are in favour of this than oppose it. But it runs into that problem of how it might be used or how it might be abused in election year and I’m thinking about whether or not I wish to expose it to that.”
At present, there are 69 members’ bills in the ballot. Nine members’ bills were still waiting for a first reading, so another ballot was unlikely to be held until the end of the year. The End of Life Choice Bill would allow people aged 18 or over to be helped to die if they were proven mentally competent by two doctors, after consultation with family, and after a “stand-down” period of a week.
The last attempt to legalise euthanasia, the Death with Dignity Bill, was narrowly voted down by 60 votes to 58 votes in 2003.

From a doctor who changed her mind

By | Recent News

Dr Diane E. Meier is one of America’s leading palliative care physicians. She is Director of the Center to Advance Palliative Care (CAPC) at the Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City and is the recipient of numerous awards. She was once an advocate of assisted suicide, but has changed her mind. Here are some remarks she made last month at a community seminar in Vermont.
Questioner: If we had a fully implemented palliative care model in this country, working as we think it should be working. . .Is there a need for policies . . . such as “Death with Dignity”?  Is there a correlation or relationship between those two, – some people would say, you don’t need Death with Dignity if you have a good palliative care model.  I was curious as to your thoughts on that.
Dr. Diane Meier: I, as a young person, was strongly in favor of legalization of assisted suicide. I think I was somewhat naïve at the time, you know, kind of doctrinaire about my commitment to patient self-determination and patient autonomy. And as I got a bit older and had more experience taking care of patients and families, and realizing that autonomy was not really relevant to the human condition – We are all parts of families and parts of communities and critically dependent on one another in ways that notions of self-determination and autonomy pretend don’t exist –
Bob Butler, whose photo I showed you, said to me when I was writing stuff in favor of assisted suicide that there’s an old Chinese proverb that: “Suicide reverberates for seven generations.” The harm to families when someone decides to leave, rather than having to leave, is substantial and has been understudied.
What’s also very interesting is that the movement to legalize assisted suicide is overwhelmingly driven by the ‘worried well’ – by people who are so terrified of the loss of control that illness and death, dying and death bring – that there’s a sort of reaction formation: “Damn it, I’m gonna take control back” over something that’s so terrifying. But, for millions of years, humans have lived and died in their families. And it’s not that scary. It’s pretty natural, like birth.
And when you look at – “What do sick people want?” – Sick people almost always want to continue to live. And it took my experience with sick people who, if it were me, I’d say, “I want assisted suicide,” and they still want to live. Overwhelmingly, people want to live, in spite of conditions that the “worried well” would think are intolerable.
I don’t know how many of you saw the Bill Moyer’s series “On Our Own Terms: Dying in America”? I don’t know if you remember that patient with Lou Gehrig’s disease whose wife was taking care of him and Moyers went back repeatedly, and the first time he said, “Well, if I’m in a wheelchair all the time, that’s it, I’m outta here.” So, Moyers goes back six months later, he’s fulltime in a wheelchair, he can’t do anything for himself, and, “It’s okay.” Then he says, “Well, if I have to get to a point where my wife has to change me and bathe me and I can’t take care of my own business, I’m outta here.”  He goes back six months later, that’s exactly what he needs and life is still worth living. Because people adjust, people are remarkably resilient.  And life is precious, and your vision of what’s worth tolerating changes.
And legalization of physician assisted suicide in a society like ours, which is entirely driven by overwhelmed, overextended doctors chasing the dollar, is pretty scary – because the patients who might opt for this are the ones who really need thoughtful, extended conversations about what is motivating you to want to die at this point, and the differential diagnosis is long. And I can promise you that the overwhelming majority of doctors have neither the training nor the time to engage in that kind of careful discussion with seriously ill patients.
And I do believe that real access to palliative care that is timely, that is high quality, would essentially eliminate the need for that and the fear that drives people to vote for these ballot measures.
– See more at:

Swiss assisted suicide clinic kills Italian man: autopsy discovers he wasn’t dying after all

By | Recent News

The Dignitas suicide clinic in Basel Switzerland caused the death of Pietro D’Amico, a 62-year-old magistrate from Calabria in southern Italy, in April, 2013 after D’Amico received a wrong diagnosis.
Dignitas is a suicide clinic that is operated by Ludwig Minella, a retired lawyer. Dignitas is known for encouraging the suicide deaths of foreign “suicide tourists” for a fee.
An article that was published in Switzerland’s english news service, The Local, stated: 

Pietro D’Amico chose to kill himself with the help of the Dignitas suicide “clinic” after learning that he was “dying.” The only problem? An autopsy revealed that he wasn’t as ill as he was told. He wasn’t dying.

The father-of-one took the decision after a wrong diagnosis from Italian and Swiss doctors, his family’s lawyer Michele Roccisano told Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera. An autopsy carried out by the University of Basel’s Institute of Forensic Medicine found that D’Amico was not suffering from a life-threatening illness at the time of his death. Roccisano has called on the Italian and Swiss authorities to examine D’Amico’s medical records to determine what went wrong.
Assisting suicide and euthanasia must be prohibited because the decision of one person to end the life of another person is irrevocable. People who are not terminal or living with depression, cannot be treated for their condition once they are dead. Dignitas has also been connected to other controversies:
1. The assisted suicide death of a UK man with dementia earlier this year.
2. The Swiss government refusing to regulate assisted suicide groups even after a Zurich prosecutor admitted that assisted suicide needed to be regulated.
3. June 2012, the Canton Vaud voted to allow assisted suicide groups to operate in the nursing homes.
4. Dignitas founder, Ludwig Minelli, is reported to be making millions on assisted suicide, but the Swiss government offers no oversight.
5. Former Dignitas employee, Soraya Wernli spoke about the many abuses at the Dignitas suicide clinic.
Reprinted with permission from Alex Schadenberg’s blog

Labour Should Ditch Assisted Suicide Bill Now

By | Media Releases

Media Release 19 July 2013
Family First NZ says that Labour MP Maryann Street should immediately withdraw her private members bill which is attempting to decriminalise assisted suicide or euthanasia.
“To legalise assisted suicide would place large numbers of vulnerable people at risk – in particular those who are depressed, elderly, sick, disabled, those experiencing chronic illness, limited access to good medical care, and those who feel themselves to be under emotional or financial pressure to request early death,” says Bob McCoskrie, National Director of Family First NZ. “It would also send a dangerous message to young people about suicide and the value of life.”
“Maintaining the current laws protects all New Zealanders equally.”
“Labour’s key priority should be to improve provision of good palliative care and practical support. All New Zealanders should have access to quality pain control — no matter where they live. Pain control and palliative medicine should be given a higher priority in medical training so that every New Zealander can benefit.”
“We also need to apply the precautionary principle: the higher the risk – the higher the burden of proof on those proposing legislation. The risk of abuse cannot be eliminated, as has been evidenced in overseas jurisdictions such as the Netherlands and Belgium,” says Mr McCoskrie.
“Legalising assisted suicide is a recipe for abuse. So-called ‘safeguards’ are an illusion because they are unable to prevent the potential for coercion and abuse.”
“Older New Zealanders are not a problem to be rid of — they’re a generation to be honoured and cared for. Elder Abuse has become a significant problem in New Zealand. We cannot ignore the possibility that dependent elderly people may be coerced into euthanasia or assisted suicide,”says Mr McCoskrie.
“We cannot put older New Zealanders at risk by creating new paths to elder abuse, potentially resulting in a ‘duty to die’.”

Another step towards euthanasia for children

By | Recent News

Presseurop 10 June 2013
In the wake of several months of testimony from doctors and experts in medical ethics, a Belgian Senate committee will on June 12 examine the possible extension of the country’s euthanasia law to include children. “On both sides of the linguistic border, liberals and socialists appear to agree on the fact that age should not be regarded as a decisive criteria in the event of a request for euthanasia,” notes De Morgen.
They want doctors to decide on a minor’s capacity for discernment on a case by case basis. The daily points out that the Christian Democrats may not approve the change, but the Flemish nationalists of the N-VA have said they are ready to vote in favour of the proposal to ensure that it is backed by a majority.

Street’s euthanasia bill a grave threat to Downs community

By | Recent News

Saving Downs 25 July 2013
 New Zealand Labour Party MP Maryan Street has a private members bill for euthanasia sitting in the ballot box in Parliament. If this bill is drawn and subsequently made law, it paves the way for the un-consented killing of people with Down syndrome in New Zealand.
Such a situation is entirely unacceptable and will be opposed in the strongest terms. If this concept sounds farfetched, just look at the draft bill. …There are many good doctors who support our community and are committed to protecting life. But, they won’t be the certifying medical practitioners.
Let’s be clear here. A certifying medical practitioner is by definition a supporter of euthanasia. Add in a negative bias many Doctors have towards those with Down syndrome and we have a toxic mix, the possibility of a legal pathway to the killing of people with Down syndrome, effectively with impunity.
Maybe we would give all doctors the benefit of the doubt that they will comply with the law. But, we can recognise the negative bias many of them have towards our community.
The type of bias where at Waikato and Auckland Hospitals they encourage late term abortions for planned and wanted pregnancies when there is a diagnosis of Down syndrome or Spina Bifida.
Maybe some of these pro-euthansia “certifying medical practitioners” think people with Down syndrome are a burden, some type of disadvantage (as described by bio-ethicists at Otago University), a life unworthy of life. We have heard it all before. Maybe an adult with Down syndrome is poorly in hospital and they are taking up resources that a “normal” person would better benefit from.

Assisted suicide poses risk to vulnerable, says senior doctor

By | Recent News

Christian Institute 3 July 2013
Legalising assisted suicide would put immense pressure on vulnerable people to end their lives, according to a consultant physician in palliative medicine.
Dr Stephen Hutchison wrote in a piece for The Herald newspaper that assisted suicide has been “consistently rejected” by the Scottish Parliament because it is unsafe. He said: “The duty of government is to protect its citizens”.
He added: “When you are facing an incurable illness, or the prospect of suffering, or the costs of care are eating into your family’s inheritance, and you feel vulnerable and scared, just how little pressure would be needed to make you choose assisted suicide, particularly if you are elderly and frail or feel that you are a burden?”

Focus Should Be Right to Care, Not Right To Die

By | Media Releases

Family First Media Release 29 April 2012
Family First NZ says that any bill to decriminalise euthanasia would lead to disabled, sick and elderly  people coming to be viewed as a burden upon the taxpayer, society and their families – and that it would send a dangerous message to young people about suicide and the value of life.
“A Sunday Star Times poll is trying to suggest that there is support for a law change – but hard and exceptional cases result in bad law making, and this poll is inconsistent with other more independent and reliable polls,” says Bob McCoskrie, National Director of Family First NZ.
“We should be focusing on making quality palliative and social care available – not promoting killing as an easy solution to a complex situation. In a culture of euthanasia, disabled, sick, socially disadvantaged, and elderly people come to be viewed as a burden upon the taxpayer, society and their families.”
“This is not a ‘rights’ issue. This is a medical debate and how we better care for the weak and vulnerable in our society,” says Mr McCoskrie.
“The safeguards which are suggested may sound good, but international experience has shown that they often don’t become reality. Despite written consent laws in Netherlands and Belgium, up to a 1/3’rd of euthanasia cases were carried out without request or consent. Despite mandatory reporting requirements, in Belgium, nearly half of all cases aren’t reported. In the Netherlands, at least 20 per cent of all cases aren’t reported.”
“There is also huge concern about the slippery slope effect. Why deny euthanasia to a patient who was suffering but who was not terminally ill, such as someone with severe arthritis? Why deny euthanasia to people who were not sick but who wanted to die for other reasons, such as the loss of a beloved spouse, or animal, or because of long-term unemployment? Or an unhappy teenager who is simply unhappy with their life? This is the exact opposite message to that which governments, educators, therapists and social workers are trying to reinforce.
In England in 2006, over 70 percent of members of the Royal College of Physicians (and over 95 percent of those in the specialty of palliative medicine) agreed with the following statement: “With improvements in palliative care, good clinical care can be provided within existing legislation and …patients can die with dignity. A change in legislation is not needed.”
“The sick and dying deserve care and protection – not an underlying message that euthanasia will fix everything,” says Bob McCoskrie