Religious leaders from a number of New Zealand’s faith traditions have written a joint letter to members of Parliament expressing their grave concerns about passing the End of Life Choice Bill.
The bill, due for its third and final reading next Wednesday, 13 November, “gives people with a terminal illness the option of requesting assisted dying,” according to its description on Parliament’s website. If passed, it will legalise both euthanasia and assisted dying in New Zealand.
The letter is signed by leaders of the Catholic, Baptist, Presbyterian, Anglican and Lutheran churches, the Federation of Islamic Associations and the Salvation Army. “We speak out of our extensive experience of actively caring for the dying and their whanau,” the leaders say, adding they are expressing their ethical, philosophical and practical concerns, not religious arguments.
They list seven concerns about the final form of the bill which will be voted on.
These include the risk that people will choose a premature death because they lack proper care choices. The letter refers to Canadian and American evidence which shows that euthanasia/assisted suicide laws have led to numerous patients choosing assisted deaths because of unmet service needs. High-quality palliative care for the terminally ill is not yet available equitably throughout New Zealand, they write.
“Until it is, there is a strong likelihood that New Zealanders will also choose assisted death because of a lack of other meaningful choices. In such a context, there is the real risk that people in lower socio-economic groups will find themselves being channelled unnecessarily and unjustly towards a premature death.”
The religious leaders also express their fears that the introduction of an assisted death law might have an adverse effect on our already tragic rates of suicide, noting that there is some overseas evidence that it may contribute to an increase in non-assisted suicides.
And they identify the failure of Parliament to include an amendment to the bill that would allow for institutions to exercise a right of conscience not to participate. The letter describes this failure as “the unethical imposition of assisted death on those carers and healthcare providers for whom the provision of assisted dying would directly contradict their medical, ethical, philosophical, spiritual and/or historical traditions.”
The letter says this is not the right time for New Zealand to be contemplating a euthanasia law: “Only when effective palliative care is a real choice for all New Zealanders will we as a country be in a position to have a proper discussion about offering assisted dying as an additional end-of-life option.”
Meanwhile, more resources need directing to enhancing palliative care nationally and addressing rising rates of depression and social isolation of our elders, it adds.
Read the letter here.