'Privilege' to help 150 people end their lives - Canadian doctor

A Canadian doctor who's helped 150 people end their lives says it's been a "sincere privilege".

Dr Stefanie Green, president of the Canadian Association of Medical Assistance in Dying Assessors and Providers (CAMAP), is in New Zealand at the invitation of the End of LIfe Choice Society, which is backing ACT MP David Seymour's End of Life Choice Bill.

The Bill, which is expected to have its second reading next week, will legalise euthanasia for patients suffering at the end of their lives.

Canada has had legalised euthanasia for three years now. Dr Green says it's "working really, really well", telling Newshub Nation on Saturday opponents' fears have proven unfounded.

"There's absolutely no evidence of any sort of misuse. There's been no charge of any clinician."

So far around 8000 people have had their lives legally ended with help from medical professionals. Dr Green says she's been involved in 150.

"It's a sincere privilege... it's a privilege to witness them through that journey, to support them through that journey, to offer them a care that they're desperate for."

The New Zealand Medical Association is opposed to euthanasia, saying it "goes against the ethics of our profession".

"I think that's naive, to be perfectly honest," said Dr Green. "When someone is suffering intolerably at the end of their life and we have a legalised medical service that allows for us to help them in that moment, when a competent adult asks me to help them, I feel like I'm helping them by doing that... "Most of us go into medicine to help people - and this is another form of helping people at a really vulnerable and terrible time in thier lives."

Simon Shepherd talks to Dr Stefanie Green.
Simon Shepherd talks to Dr Stefanie Green. Photo credit: Newshub Nation

While there is the option for the patient to administer the fatal drugs themselves, Dr Green says that's only happened about 20 times so far.

Toll on doctors' mental health?
 

Dr Green says while there is support for doctors who have to carry out the procedures, most haven't needed it.

"People find this work incredibly rewarding. Patients are incredibly grateful for the care."

Death comes about 10 minutes after the drugs are administered, and despite opponents' claims, Dr Green says she's not aware of any cases where it hasn't gone to plan.

Opposing views

Earlier this year Canadian Leonie Herx, who is opposed to euthanasia, visited New Zealand claiming there were plans to expand eligibility to "mature minors". Dr Green rejected this, saying there were no moves by any of Canada's jurisdictions to widen eligibility.

The misconception, she says, comes from the court's initial ruling of who could be eligible for euthanasia - that came before the Canadian government even wrote its laws, which are more restrictive.

"There is absolute, in no jurisdiction in Canada, any current move to expand our eligibility criteria - let me make that very, very clear - including mature minors."

Kiwi comparison

Dr Herx also said New Zealand's proposed law was "very similar" to Canada's. Dr Green said this wasn't true - Seymour's proposal is actually more restrictive than what's on the books in Canada, and "cuts out a significant group of people who are suffering intolerably" by restricting eligibility to people expected to die from a terminal illness within six months.

Opponents have also suggested patients would be coerced into accepting euthanasia to avoid being a burden on their families. Dr Green said there's been no evidence of that in Canada, and it's part of a provider's job to ensure there isn't any.

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

Most Kiwis back some form of legalised euthanasia, according to polls.

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