Health staff oppose Act

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Holding the line...Gore Health clinical director Fazal Mann, Gore Medical Centre GP Andrew Ure, Gore Health Centre GP Claire McAlinden and Gore Hospital chief executive Karl Metzler are part of a group that oppose the End of Life Choice Act. PHOTO:SANDY EGGLESTON

Helping patients end their lives is a line Eastern Southland medical staff are not prepared to cross.

Gore Health Centre GP Claire McAlinden said of the more than 20 staff in the area, no-one wanted to assist the terminally ill to die if the End of Life Choice Act 2019 came into force.

“You would think if there was even an inkling that people wanted to be involved in it there would be one or two dissenters,” Dr McAlinden said.

“There’s not.

“We all feel it is crossing the line .. a line that can’t be uncrossed.”

The Act will come into force if more than 50% of voters say yes to that happening in the referendum held in conjunction with the general election next month.

Last week Dr McAlinden sent a letter to Gore Health chief executive Karl Metzler on behalf of the Gore and Mataura medical centres, Gore Hospital and Gore Health Centre staff asking Gore Health Ltd to “declare that assisted dying and assisted suicide will not be a service offered by the trust [Gore Health Ltd]”.

“The pharmacists locally are also opposed,” she said.

One of the criteria to allow people to choose to end their lives was if they had been diagnosed with a terminal illness likely to end their life in six months.

“It implies every doctor has this magical crystal ball and we know.

“There’s no such thing as a concrete prognosis in anyone.”

Euthanasia was a “very grey area and a law is black and white”.

“We all want to alleviate suffering,” she said.

“We don’t want people to be in pain or distressed.

“Once you make it black and white then that’s when it doesn’t take account of people who don’t fit exactly in any one pigeonhole.

“Like any law there’s always loopholes.”

While doctors could make a conscientious objection to assisting someone to die, they were obliged to connect the patient with an independent practitioner who was on the pro-euthanasia list Support and Consultation for End of Life in New Zealand.

“To me is that letting me conscientiously object or is that asking me to pass the buck to somebody else?”

If a doctor was on the SCENZ list, they were not really independent, because they already approved of assisted dying, she said.

Gore Medical Centre GP Andrew Ure said like many he made a vow to do no harm to his patients.

“We see a lot of unintended harms coming from this legislation,” Dr Ure said.

“We’re going to be the people administering the harm.”

The Act challenged the view that life was sacred.

“If you get rid of the sacred then where do you stop?”

The medical centre did not support the Act.

“We want this place to be a place of healing rather than a place of dying.”

At the moment if a patient said to him they wanted to die he heard that “as a cry for help”.

However, under the Act he was obliged to take them through the nine points set out to tell them their rights to die.

There was evidence from other countries where assisted dying was legal the suicide rate increased, he said.

“It normalises suicide,” Dr Ure said.

“It changes value judgements about whose quality of life is worth saving.”