Lawyers denounce End of Life Choice Bill as 'threat to Māori'

A group of lawyers advocating for vulnerable Kiwis says David Seymour's euthanasia bill poses a serious threat to Māori.

But Seymour says he won't get into an argument with people who compare assisted dying to Nazi eugenics.

The End of Life Choice Bill was tabled in Parliament on Tuesday, almost two years after it was first introduced. It would give people the option to request assisted dying if they have a terminal illness of a "grievous and irremediable medical condition".

The Bill has been met with staunch opposition from some organisations, including the New Zealand Disability Rights Commissioner, the New Zealand Medical Association and Hospice New Zealand.

One such group, Lawyers for Vulnerable New Zealanders (LVNZ), has launched a website dedicated to identifying what it says are 35 critical flaws in the proposed Bill. Members of the group say one of those flaws is that the Bill poses a particular threat to Māori, who are overrepresented in the country's suicide, terminal illness and chronic sickness rates as well as mental health and disability rates.

"Government has social policy responsibilities toward Māori under Article 3 of the Treaty of Waitangi," disability rights advocate and former legal academic Dr Huhana Hickey says.

"This Bill threatens vulnerable Māori who are old, sick or disabled and who are already being failed by our health system according to a large claim currently before the Waitangi Tribunal."

"We need clear minds to come together to ensure that our most vulnerable - who are many - are given the same level of support and dignity as those privileged few who have greater resources, access and social capital," says Hickey. "This Bill is not the solution."

However Seymour refuses to respond to Hickey's criticism due to something she tweeted about the Bill on Tuesday morning.

"While I respect Dr Hickey's right to have a view on this issue, I have seen her compare the End of Life Choice Bill with Nazi eugenics and I politely decline to engage with a person who debates at that level," he told Newshub.

Dr Huhana Hickey compared the Bill to racist Nazi policies in a tweet.
Dr Huhana Hickey compared the Bill to racist Nazi policies in a tweet. Photo credit: Twitter

As well as Māori, the LVNZ says the Bill poses a threat to other marginalised groups including the elderly, the poor and the lonely.

The group cited a report into euthanasia in the US state of Oregon, which said 67 percent of people who chose to end their lives via assisted suicide were on low incomes and relied on state health care insurance. It also said 63.6 percent claimed one of the reasons they wanted to access assisted suicide was because they felt they were a "burden" on their family, friends and caregivers.

"Caring societies don't support legislation that will help poor or neglected people to end their lives because they don't want to be a bother on the rest of us" lawyer Richard McLeod says.

"This Bill creates a mechanism for the insidious coercion of people who 'just don't want to be a bother' into requesting assistance with suicide.

"It was intended to cater for the confident, the capable, the committed, and the well-resourced. Instead it puts large numbers of vulnerable New Zealanders at greater risk of being killed or helped to end their lives by doctors as a result of neglect, coercion and other forms of abuse."

On Tuesday the Justice Select Committee said it had not managed to reach a consensus on whether or not the Bill should be passed, and reported it back with minor amendments - which LVNZ says is a red flag.

"After 16 months of investigation involving more than 38,000 submitters, the Select Committee has now reported that the Bill is unworkable in its present state and they are unable to agree that it be passed," Hickey said. "This should be ringing serious alarm bells, and it points to the fact that this Bill is irremediably flawed."

"We acknowledge that the Bill was drafted with good intentions," McLeod says. "That does not excuse its numerous deficiencies. Compassion without consideration of the consequences will lead to cruelty.

"It's time to put the Bill out of its misery."