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 Ending a person’s suffering or ending the person who suffers?

What we need to know before euthanasia and assisted suicide


At the 2020 election, New Zealanders were asked to vote in a binding referendum on whether to accept or reject the End of Life Choice Act.

The End of Life Choice Act had already been through Parliament, but did not become law unless the majority of voters support it in the referendum.

The referendum did not make any changes to the End of Life Choice Act. Now that it has passed through Parliament, there is no way to go back and fix the very serious flaws it contains. 

We were not being asked to vote on whether we are for or against euthanasia as a concept. We were being asked to vote on the specific law in front of us, including its long list of risks to our nation’s most vulnerable citizens.

For up-to-date information on assisted suicide and euthanasia in New Zealand, visit Voice For Life’s #DefendNZ website.

 What is the euthanasia law in New Zealand?

Understanding the dangers of the End of Life Choice Act


A Lawyer’s Nightmare
The legal problems with the End of Life Choice Act

Over 200 lawyers, including Queen’s Counsel, human rights lawyers and disability lawyers, have meticulously combed through this piece of legislation. They have discovered many fatal flaws which have led them to unanimously agree that this law poses far too many dangers to vulnerable Kiwis.

It is good to keep in mind that even many lawyers who are not necessarily opposed to euthanasia in principle, are vehemently against this particular, dangerous piece of legislation that is being offered up to New Zealanders.

It becomes a huge issue when it is suddenly legal for a person to intentionally kill another person. This is a lawyer’s worst nightmare as it is often difficult, in some cases impossible, to detect pressure.

Another problem is that the nature of this law almost guarantees that it’s application will change, and the eligibility criteria will progressively widen over time.

Just like in the overseas jurisdictions where euthanasia/ assisted suicide has been legalised, any initial restrictions in the End of Life Choice Act are likely to be contested in court within a matter of years. For example, the current age eligibility is 18 years, but the New Zealand Attorney-General has already identified this as being discriminatory towards 16 and 17- year olds, and inconsistent with our Bill of Rights.

Hospices and rest homes could face challenges around conscientious objection. The High Court has ruled that these institutions may be able to conscientiously object to participating in euthanasia, however, they will have to allow for their staff to euthanise their patients on their premises if requested by the patient.


A Doctor’s Dilemma
Why health professionals want nothing to do with this

93% of doctors are reported to oppose the End of Life Choice Act. Over 1500 doctors have signed the ‘Doctors Say NO’ Open Letter and have been pleading with Kiwis to also vote NO in the upcoming referendum. Doctors are the ones who would have to administer the lethal injection in the event of euthanasia, or prescribe the lethal drugs in an assisted suicide case.

Doctors oppose this because it completely contradicts the oath they have taken to never intentionally harm or kill their patients. A lethal injection is not a medical treatment; it does not seek to heal but instead kills the patient.

Doctors also know that prognosis is essentially a guess. It can be very difficult to determine just how long someone has left to live. A diagnosis can also be completely wrong. A person can be diagnosed as having a terminal condition when in fact, they do not.

Doctors do not want to be associated with wrongful or premature deaths of their patients.

The End of Life Choice Act allows for a patient to decline other treatments in favour of euthanasia, even if a doctor thinks that there is a high chance of success with a different treatment. Doctors are expected to detect any psychological pressure their patient may be subjected to when requesting euthanasia. However, this is impossible to do in a 15-minute consultation, especially if they haven’t had any previous contact with the patient. Undetected underlying depression can also be a motivating factor for requesting euthanasia. This can open a whole new can of worms and present another ethical dilemma for the doctor.

Even at the best of times and with a long-standing doctor- patient relationship, pressure can still be extremely subtle and therefore difficult to detect by doctors.


The Overseas Statistics
Cautionary examples for New Zealand

The End of Life Choice Act is loosely based on the Canadian euthanasia law framework. Euthanasia was only introduced in Canada in 2016, yet they are already looking to expand their law to include mentally ill, elderly and children. In 2019 a United Nations special rapporteur also discovered health professionals' misconduct towards people with disabilities, pressuring them into considering euthanasia.

Oregon, which legalised assisted suicide in 1997, has seen their numbers progressively increase each year. At 94%, the most commonly reported reason for seeking assisted suicide has been ‘loss of enjoyment in life’. Another common reason, in 63% of cases, has been ‘fear of being a burden on loved ones’. 1 in 6 people prescribed lethal drugs for assisted suicide in Oregon are clinically depressed.

Belgium has no age limit on who can request euthanasia, and the number of deaths by euthanasia are growing there every year. In 2013, in the Flanders region of Belgium, 1.7% of all euthanasia deaths were non-voluntary.

In the Netherlands, new-born babies can be euthanised on parents' request. Children as young as 12 can also request euthanasia. Although Dutch euthanasia legislation has not changed, in practice it has expanded. There has been an exponential growth in the number of people who have accessed euthanasia for mental illness and psychological suffering. In 2017, 166 people with dementia were euthanised without consent. The Netherlands is now looking to expand the law to give access to euthanasia to people over the age of 70 who are perfectly healthy but want to die because they are ‘tired of life’.


 Three common misconceptions about the End of Life Choice Act

How confusion has led to misunderstanding


Choosing to turn off life support in unrecoverable cases
Did you know that it is already legal to do this?

74% of New Zealanders mistakenly think that the End of Life Choice Act would make it legal to turn off life support. This is not true. This practice is already legal in New Zealand. There has never been any legal or ethical issue with turning off life support when a patient is in a state they cannot recover from.


Choosing to have a ‘Do not resuscitate’ order
Did you know that this is not illegal?

70% of Kiwis incorrectly think that the End of Life Choice Act will allow them to choose to not be resuscitated. This is already legal in New Zealand. There has never been any legal or ethical issue with patients opting for a ‘Do not resuscitate’ order.

The right to refuse treatment
Did you know you are already legally allowed to refuse treatments?

It is already legal to refuse treatment or stop receiving life-saving or life-prolonging treatment at any time. This is a right that we already have in New Zealand.

 Assisted dying methods

Understanding the different ways a patient’s life will be ended 


Death by lethal injection

Euthanasia is the name given to the act of deliberately ending the life of a person by administering a lethal drug, most commonly by injection. 

Assisted suicide
Death by ingesting lethal drugs

Assisted Suicide is the name given to the act of someone assisting another person in their suicide. This is usually done by being prescribed a lethal drug that the person then orally digests on their own, at the time and place of their choosing.

 One person’s ‘choice to die’ is another person’s ‘duty to die’

Why this law is not just about me


Our friends with disabilities

The choice that actually takes away their choice

Many people living with a disability tell us that ‘choice’ is not really a choice when they are already struggling to access adequate care and support to live their lives well. Euthanasia could become the only option for many if they are not able to access alternatives. 

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Mental health

The dangers of a law that can’t detect someone’s motives for wanting to die

There is no mandatory psychiatric testing for someone requesting euthanasia or assisted suicide in the End of Life Choice Act. It will also be very hard for doctors to detect whether someone is depressed or mentally unwell. Protecting those with mental health issues will be almost impossible under this law.


The pressure on our elders

Are they just not wanting to be a burden?

Although feelings of being a burden on family and/or society are common among elderly New Zealanders, they can easily be missed and undetected by doctors and others. The End of Life Choice Act contains woefully inadequate protections for elderly people facing these far too common issues.

We know from the overseas experience that more than 80% of euthanasia and assisted suicide cases will be people over the age of 65.

 What are the alternatives to this law?

Finding ways to ease the suffering without killing


True Compassion

Palliative care to ease the pain

Palliative care specialists are well equipped and highly experienced at managing pain and discomfort in the last stages of a person’s life. Unfortunately, not all Kiwis currently have good access to palliative care services. There needed to be better funding in this area before we even considered introducing a euthanasia law. Introducing one now will simply leave many Kiwis in poorly resourced areas vulnerable to premature killing without any other options made available to them.


Living with Dignity

Accessing the help and support you need to live well

Whether or not you have access to help and support that you need to live your life well, can make all the difference. Making sure that you are connected with the right organisations, groups and government departments can help you to live your life with dignity and live it well. There is help available.


Offering a True Choice

When all the options are truly on the table

If you have good care and access to good support, your choice might look quite different. Choice is only as good as the options you have in front of you, which is why it is so important to make sure you have access to everything you need before you can make a true choice. 

 Let’s be a voice for the vulnerable

What you can do to help


Get involved