After considering the legalization of physician-assisted suicide for two years, New Zealand Parliament’s largest-ever inquiry refrained from making it legal. The inquiry followed a petition signed by nearly 9000, requesting a thorough investigation into public attitudes on physician-assisted suicide, as well as its final legalization. A report by the Health Committee covering a summary of the main public arguments was recently presented in Parliament.
Out of 22,000 individuals covered in the report, 80 percent were opposed to assisted suicide, leading the Committee not to recommend its legalization:
1. It threatens the vulnerable
While speaking about the Committee’s reaction to the report, chairman Simon O’Connor states that the main concern is public safety. “It is very difficult to see how there could be sufficient safeguards to actually protect vulnerable people in New Zealand. And that’s been the experience overseas as well.” “It probably comes down to the simple question of ‘How many errors would Parliament would be willing to accept in this space?’”
2. It’s incompatible with the medical profession
The inquiry found strong opposition on part of many doctors who claimed assisted suicide undermines the ethical core of their profession, which is to heal, not to kill.
3. It incentivizes death
Several New Zealanders say one of their primary concerns is the effect legalizing assisted suicide might have on the elderly and the ill, who might feel like an emotional or financial burden on their families, and, consequently, might opt for physician assisted suicide. Another concern the benefit family members may draw from a relative’s quick, voluntary death, increasing the likelihood of elder abuse.
4. The slippery slope
Once the law is passed, what’s keeping it from expanding? Many of the surveyed individuals noted that in 2002, Belgium legalized assisted suicide for those over 18, but opened services to minors in particular circumstances only twelve years later. In a few European countries like Switzerland or the Netherlands, too, the idea of extending physician-assisted suicide to patients with non-terminal illnesses is being tossed around.
New Zealand may be half a world away, but the reasons cited in the report for opposing assisted suicide are as applicable there as they are here in Minnesota. We should follow suit, and say no to this dangerous and risky practice.