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(Left) Up for discussion...Opponents of the End of Life Choice Bill Sir William English and his wife, Mary, Lady English, listen during a debate on the Bill in Gore. (Right) There to listen...People crowded into the Gore RSA on Monday to listen to a debate on the End of Life Choice Bill. PHOTO: MARGARET PHILLIPS

Debate on End of Life Choice Bill draws more than 200 people

The End of Life Choice Bill could give doctors a licence to kill if it becomes law, former National Party leader Sir William English says.

Sir William and his wife Mary, Lady English, debated the merits of the Bill in Gore on Monday with two of its advocates, former MP Michael Laws and Act New Zealand Party leader David Seymour, who put it forward.

The debate drew a crowd of more than 200 people.

Sir William was concerned about a lack of accountability and safeguards if the Bill became legislation.

“It’s not difficult at all to imagine the circumstances where you found out your mother was euthanised and you want to find out what happened, you can’t, it won’t even be on the death certificate,” Sir William said.

“The really important thing to remember about this legislation, there are no consequences from it going wrong, and if there are no consequences then the safeguards are meaningless,” he said.

He believed there would be no recourse for families questioning why a relative took the end-of-life choice.

The doctors who signed off on the end of life choice only had to say they acted in good faith and they could not be held accountable, either through the civil or criminal court, he said.

Sir William also voiced concerns about the Bill’s powers being expanded to a point where people who say they are “tired of living” can take advantage of the choice offered in the Bill.

Mr Seymour said the debate centred around two questions: did the public think the law as it was was acceptable, and was it possible to design a law that allowed people to choose to end their lives while also protecting those who did not?

Mr Seymour said assisted dying was legal in countries such as the Netherlands and Belgium.

He believed there were about 2% to 3% of terminally ill people for whom palliative care would not ease their distress, and it was those people who would benefit from the Bill.

Enforcing the present law was cruel for those people, he said.

“I think its barbaric. I think it’s cruel. I think it’s wrong,” Mr Seymour said.

At the heart of the matter was that the person must make the choice themselves.

Mr Seymour strongly advocated people applying for assisted dying would have to meet every clause in the criteria.

There was no evidence of abuse from countries that had adopted the law.

“It’s just not true, the evidence is just not there,” Mr Seymour said.

Two doctors independent of each other would have to sign off for the law to be enacted, he said.

PROPOSED END OF LIFE CHOICE BILL


Under the provisions of the proposed End of Life Choice Bill, a doctor must fulfil certain criteria such as:

Advising the person of the prognosis for their condition.

Advising the person of the irreversible nature of assisted dying.

Advising the person of the impacts of assisted dying.

Talking with the person about their wish, at appropriate intervals.

Ensuring the person understands their options for end-of-life care.

Ensuring the person knows they can change their mind at any time.

Encouraging the person to talk about their wish with others, such as friends, family and counsellors.

Ensuring the person knows they are not obligated to speak to anyone, but ensuring they have had the opportunity to.

Ensuring that the wish has been expressed free from pressure by any other person, by speaking with other health practitioners and with members of the person’s family.

The person must sign and date the second part of a form with a doctor present. If the person is unable to write they are able to request another person to sign and date the form on their behalf. This must be done in the presence of the person, with certain conditions met.

The doctor must decide if the person is eligible for assisted dying. A second, independent doctor must also decide whether the person is eligible.

If one or both of the doctors request it, a third assessment of the person’s competence must be made by a specialist psychiatrist or psychologist.

If both doctors and the specialist, if requested, agree the person is eligible, assisted dying can proceed.

The doctor must tell the person they are eligible for assisted dying, and discuss with them the progress of their illness and the timing of assisted dying.

The medication can be prescribed and administered by the doctor.

The doctor must ask the person if they wish to receive the medication and, if so, provide it so the person can end their life.

The End of Life Choice Bill limits access to medically assisted dying to people over the age of 18 years.

The Bill limits access to assisted dying to those who suffer from serious illnesses from which they will never recover.

If they suffer from a terminal illness, they must have a prognosis showing six months or less to live.

The Bill limits access to assisted dying to those who experience unbearable suffering that cannot be relieved in a tolerable way.

The Bill also limits access to those who are able to understand the nature of assisted dying and the consequence it will have.

The Bill will not allow those without sound mind to access assisted dying.