Legalising assisted-dying sends wrong message to vulnerable people - anti-euthanasia advocate

An anti-euthanasia advocate says legalising assisted-dying signals that ending your life in difficult circumstances is "okay".

David Seymour's End of Life Choice Bill, which will have its second reading in Parliament on Wednesday, would legalise euthanasia for patients suffering at the end of their lives.

But it remains an incredibly contentious issue, with Peter Thirkell, secretary of anti-euthanaisa group Care Alliance, telling The AM Show on Wednesday the Bill highlights a double-standard around suicide.

"It is assisted suicide. A GP in south Auckland wrote in their submission and said 'look I already have young people coming talking about the double standard'," he said.

"It basically sends a societal signal that ending your life in difficult circumstances is okay."

But pro-euthanisa advocate Dr Mary Panko, president of the End of Life Choice Society, said that's nonsense as the Bill would only allow euthanasia for those who would die either way.

"This is people who are dying. They are not committing suicide, they are going to die within a few weeks, days... this is nothing to do with suicide. This is helping people to allow their friends and relatives to be around them."

The Bill is expected to be amended to only support assisted dying for those who have a terminal illness that will end the person's life within six months. 

Dr Panko said passing it would give people at the end of their lives a choice about how they leave the world. 

"The name of the Bill says it all. It's end of life, that means it is for terminal ill people, it is not for people feeling a bit tired or miserable, and its choice. People who don't want to have anything to do with it, that's absolutely fine," she told The AM Show.

"Thirty-three thousand people die each year in New Zealand... about six percent die in pain, which cannot be helped. That means almost 2000 people. That doesn't mean they all be asking for voluntary aid in dying, but it does mean they will have the choice."

Dr Mary Panko and Peter Thirkell.
Dr Mary Panko and Peter Thirkell. Photo credit: The AM Show.

But another point of contention has been around the level of safeguards in the Bill to ensure people are not coerced into asking to be euthanised.

Thirkell said that was a concern of many.

"A lot of the submissions to the Justice Select Committee were saying that coercion, people feeling a burden which would lead to an early death is a serious problem.

"We actually believe, and a lot of the submissions to the Justice Select Committee believe, that the safeguards would not work."

Canada legalised euthansia three years ago, and Dr Stephanie Green, president of the Canadian Association of Medical Assistance in Dying Assessors and Providers (CAMAP), told Newshub Nation on Saturday there's been no evidence of coercion there.

"It's a bit condescending to people to tell them that they can't make up their own mind."

The Bill says medical practitioners cannot euthanise someone if coercion is suspected. Thirkell says it's hard for doctors to determine that, but Dr Panko notes practitioners already make similar determinations.

"The point about coercion and pressure is that doctors are making these sort of determinations everyday," she said.

"If a patient says 'look I have had enough, I am going to stop eating and drinking', which they are allowed to do, the doctor has to decide at that point has their mendacious son-in-law come in and persuaded them, are they suffering from coercion?"

The Bill passed in its first reading 76 votes to 44, while a Newshub poll last year found 71 percent of Kiwis were in favour of it.