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July 2015

Lecretia Seales' widower praises Kiwis for poll showing support for doctor assisted euthanasia

By | Recent News

OneNews 27 July 2015
In the poll, 75 per cent of the 1000 voters questioned said they felt a patient should be able to request a doctor’s assistance to end their life. Twenty-one per cent were against the suggestion, and five per cent were undecided.
Matt Vickers says Lecretia Seales’ family is happy to see New Zealanders support her arguments in favour of doctor assisted death. Ms Seales, 42, a Wellington lawyer, died in June after battling brain cancer for four years.  “Through her High Court case, Lecretia hoped to raise awareness of the appropriateness of physician assisted dying legislation in some form,” he says.
“We’re glad to see that New Zealanders agree that it is appropriate, respectful and compassionate, and we hope that Parliament does their job and achieves legislative change that the majority of New Zealanders clearly want.”
Mr Vickers and his wife spent the last weeks of her life in court fighting for her doctor to be allowed to legally administer her a lethal dose of drugs.
“Through her High Court case, Lecretia hoped to raise awareness of the appropriateness of physician assisted dying legislation in some form,” he says.

Support For Euthanasia Decreases As Harms Revealed

By | Media Releases

Media Release 28 July 2015
Family First NZ says that latest Research NZ poll on euthanasia reveals a welcome decrease in support for euthanasia from its previous poll, and believes that support for a law change will continue to fall as the experiences of overseas jurisdictions highlight the harms and abuse of such law changes.

“What this poll does highlight is that when we as a country have a robust honest debate about euthanasia, families soon realise that safeguards can only go so far, that coercion is subtle, and that patients will ask themselves why they are not availing themselves of it. The potential for abuse and flouting of procedural safeguards is a strong argument against legalisation,” says Bob McCoskrie, National Director of Family First NZ.

“Overseas experience proves that the risk of abuse cannot be eliminated.”

“The poll is not perfect. By only asking about the scenario of a ‘painful incurable disease’, the poll question misrepresents not only the real effects of changes to euthanasia laws as evidenced by similar law changes overseas, but it also belittles the incredible advances in the quality of palliative care in New Zealand,” says Mr McCoskrie.

“What this poll fails to address is that to allow 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. Patients will come to feel euthanasia would be ‘the right thing to do’, they have ‘had a good innings’, and they do not want to be a ‘burden’,” says Mr McCoskrie.

“Why did the polling company not also ask ‘Should a depressed person be able to access assisted suicide?’, ‘Should a disabled person who is deemed a burden to their family be able to access euthanasia?’, ‘Should an elderly relative who feels they are a burden on both the health system and also on their family finances be able to access euthanasia?’. These are some of the real outcomes of a law change and will lead respondents to re-think their response.”

A 2009 Massey University poll showed a marked difference in responses depending on whether the word “painful” was included in the question.
A poll by Curia Market Research commissioned by Family First NZ in 2013 found that 57% supported the statement “If someone really wants to die, doctors should be allowed to help them kill themselves.” But when they were also asked “If the Government spent more on quality palliative care for people with terminal illnesses, almost no one would die in prolonged pain or suffering”, a majority of 52% supported that proposal and 32% opposed.

Family First is calling for a palliative care regime in New Zealand that is fully funded and world class – and not a court case or legislative change to remove the protection for vulnerable people including children.

Euthanasia rates have not increased

By | Recent News

Scoop 25 July 2015 
Media Release 
Euthanasia – Free New Zealand 24 July 2015
According to an anonymous survey published today, 16 New Zealand GPs have explicitly hastened a patient’s death by prescribing, supplying or administering drugs. That represents 4.5 % of 359 respondents.
A similar survey, conducted in 2004, found that 5.6 % of GPs (39 out of 693) intentionally hastened a patient’s death.
“The low response rates and unknown margins of error make it difficult to be precise”, says Professor David Richmond, a spokesperson for Euthanasia-Free NZ. “However, these percentages (5.6 % in 2004, 4.5 % in 2015) are consistent with there being no escalation in the use of euthanasia in New Zealand over the past decade.”
“These studies confirm that the vast majority of doctors work within accepted ethical norms and standards.”
“The data also fails to support the often-heard claim that rates of euthanasia in New Zealand are similar to those in the Netherlands prior to the legalisation of euthanasia there.”
According to the 1991 official report of the Dutch Attorney General on euthanasia in the Netherlands, 54% of all doctors and 67% of GPs had assisted a patient to die by euthanasia or assisted suicide in the previous year. The practice was decriminalised 10 years later.
The Dutch euthanasia rates have since increased exponentially. Euthanasia is increasingly performed on patients suffering from psychological or psychiatric symptoms. Hundreds of people are euthanised each year without their consent, even though the law requires a voluntary request from the patient.
“We should take heed of Dutch professor Theo Boer, a former advocate of legalised euthanasia”, says Professor Richmond. “After reviewing thousands of cases as a member of a Dutch Regional Euthanasia Review Committee, he now warns other countries against following the Dutch example.”

Yet another survey where media get it all wrong on definition of 'euthanasia'

By | Recent News

GPs admit actions to shorten life
NZ Herald 24 July 2015
Sixteen GPs have admitted their involvement in the deaths of patients who were prescribed medicines explicitly to shorten their lives.
All the patients were near the end of their lives: 15 faced death within a week and one was expected to survive one to four weeks.
The GPs “attributed death to a drug that had been prescribed, supplied, or administered explicitly for the purpose of hastening the patient’s death”, according to the results of a survey of GPs published in today’s New Zealand Medical Journal.
The survey results follow the decision of Parliament’s health select committee this week to hold an inquiry into voluntary euthanasia.
A petition from the Voluntary Euthanasia Society was presented to Parliament by supporters including Matt Vickers, the widower of Lecretia Seales, who died last month, aged 42, from a brain tumour. She was unsuccessful in seeking a High Court ruling that would let her doctor help her die without criminal prosecution.
Euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide are illegal. But the survey of GPs provides few details of the life-shortening drugs which were given – in some cases by more than one person – by two doctors, 15 nurses and one “other” person.
The exception is the GP who reported involving a hospice home-care team, say the Auckland University researchers, Dr Phillipa Malpas – a member of the Voluntary Euthanasia Society – and her colleagues.
Doctors and nurses more involved in patients’ ‘end-of-life’ decisions – study
Stuff 24 July 2015
Doctors and nurses are playing increasing roles in prescribing, supplying or administering drugs that may hasten a patient’s death, according to new research.
A University of Auckland study anonymously surveyed 650 GPs.
Sixteen reported prescribing, supplying or administering a drug with the explicit intention of bringing death about more quickly.
But in 15 of those cases, it was nurses who administered the drugs.
Researchers acknowledged the actions of the GPs would generally be understood as euthanasia, but the survey did not use that term.
In the survey, led by Auckland University senior lecturer Dr Phillipa Malpas, GPs were asked about the last death at which they were the attending doctor.

Deaths among young an unintended consequence of euthanasia movement: mother

By | Recent News

Sydney Morning Herald 13 July 2015
Twenty-six-year-old Lucas Taylor took his own life by taking Nembutal more than three years ago, but he still gets Exit International’s email newsletter.
After his death in 2012 his mother Judith went through his emails looking for answers and found he had been a paid up member of the organisation.
Mrs Taylor said he used knowledge gained on Exit International’s forums to obtain the drug from Peru. He was not suffering from a terminal illness – although Mrs Taylor said he may have believed he was ill – and later used the drug to take his own life in Germany.
She said the deaths among younger people were an “unintended consequence” of the voluntary euthanasia movement putting out information online on suicide methods.
“Coroners and authorities should be sitting up taking notice of this,” she said of the data on the number of deaths from Nembutal. “This is an international business.”
New data from the national coronial information system shows 120 people died by taking Nembutal – dubbed the “peaceful pill” – between July 2000 and December 2012.

British Geriatric Society – Position on Euthanasia

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British Geriatric Society 10 July 2015
Within the British Geriatrics Society (BGS) membership, there is a range of strongly held views on this issue; however, on balance our position as a society is as follows.
1.  The BGS accepts individuals’ right to determine the choice of treatment and care they receive provided they have the capacity to do so. We further accept that sometimes, some symptoms are difficult to control and that even if they are controlled people may still find their life unbearable.  However a policy which allows physicians to assist patients to die is not acceptable to us. We believe instead that the most vulnerable should be enabled  to access the services and care they need to lead as independent and symptom free a life as is possible and, when the time comes, to die in the setting of their choice with dignity.
2.  Members of the BGS look after many older people with frailty, disability and those who are dying.  We accept life has a natural end and that our job is not to prolong life at all costs but to improve quality of life whilst accepting that death is inevitable. Our members have long experience of conversations with patients about ending their life.  Often these are phrased as “Can’t you just let me go?”  However our experience shows us these are more often a cry for help than a genuine desire for death.  Often, listening to our patients’ wishes, concerns and fears, and taking time to address their needs significantly diminishes their wish for death. We also believe older people may feel despair as a direct result of the reaction of others to their frailty and the care and treatment they are afforded. The BGS considers the best way for physicians to help these vulnerable people is to maximise their independence and health, rather than assisting with their expressed wish to die.
3.  We know that older people are often strongly influenced by their families and carers- the vast majority, but not all, will have their well-being at heart. Even so, many requests to end life – made either directly or indirectly to us as geriatricians – come from the patients’ families and not the older person themselves. Often such requests are then forgotten if such degrading symptoms as urinary and faecal incontinence, depression and unremitting pain are relieved.
4.  Much of the public demand for assisted dying seems to stem from the fear of a prolonged death with increasing disability sometimes associated with unwanted burdensome medical care.  This suffering at the end of life can be prevented by a change in the focus of care – from prolonging life to addressing the individuals own priorities and symptoms , and by the involvement of medical professionals skilled in palliative and end of life care.
5.  The BGS does not accept that legalising physician assisted suicide is in the broader interests of society. We recognise that some people feel their life is unbearable; however, law makers should consider not only the rights of individuals in society but also society itself and the impact the legislation will have on all members of our communities.  The BGS is concerned with protecting the interests of vulnerable older and disabled people who already feel pressure to give up their lives to reduce the burden they feel they cause to others.
6.  Campaigners for physician assisted dying argue that curing disease and bringing about death are not mutually exclusive roles, the intention in both cases being the relief of suffering. It is further argued that the primary role of the physician is to care for his/her patient, which must therefore entail respecting their autonomous wish to die. However, the BGS believes that crossing the boundary between acknowledging that death is inevitable and taking active steps to assist the patient to die changes fundamentally the role of the physician, changes the doctor-patient relationship and changes the role of medicine in society.  Once quality of life becomes the yardstick by which the value of human life is judged, the protection offered to the most vulnerable members of society is weakened.
7.  The right of any individual, whether terminally ill or not, to have their symptoms controlled is undisputed. In our opinion it is crucial to distinguish in clinical practice between actions primarily intended to control symptoms and actions primarily intended to assist the patient to die.  In the same vein, the BGS would emphasise that the right of a patient to choose or decline treatment and or intervention whatever the consequences, supersedes all other guidance and wishes. This equally applies to those who express their wishes regarding their future care using an appropriately constituted advance directive who can be assured that such wishes will be respected.
8.  The BGS is concerned that ‘assisted dying’, while it does not apply directly and solely to older people, will lead to a change in attitude to death in society and also within the medical profession. The prohibition on intentional killing is the cornerstone of society and it is worth preserving the notion that all lives are precious. The BGS accepts that this denies a very small number of persons the right to have their life ended by their physician if it is their autonomous wish. However it must be noted that every society puts some limits on respect for autonomy, which must be balanced against the greater good of society. The BGS urges improvement in the medical and social care of older people, placing them back in the centre of a society which respects their wisdom and experience.
9.  The BGS accepts that society is changing, with a shift toward more emphasis on the rights of the individual, including the right to choose the manner and timing of their death.  If this leads in time to a change in the law to allow physician assisted suicide, the BGS will aim to play a constructive role in the discussions with law makers and officials to develop an implementation code with robust safeguards in place to mitigate as far as possible any adverse impact and to protect the interests of older people and those who are vulnerable.

Survey doesn't show doctors' views – NZMA

By | Recent News

Radio NZ News 14 July 2015
Nearly 12 percent of general practitioners surveyed by the magazine New Zealand Doctor say they have helped a terminally ill person die.
But the New Zealand Medical Association says the survey does not reflect doctors’ views.
Thirteen of the 110 GPs who responded to the survey by New Zealand Doctor and IMS FaxHealth said they had intervened to help a terminally ill and suffering patient to die.
Nearly 41 percent of survey respondents said they had been asked to help end a patient’s life by relatives.
There was a fairly even split on questions about whether doctors should help terminally ill people to die, and on whether a law change was needed.
New Zealand Medical Association chair Stephen Child told Nine to Noon the survey did not represent the views of doctors on euthanasia.’t-show-doctors’-views-nzma