New Zealanders will soon go to the polls to decide whether to allow the legalisation of euthanasia in that country.
Citizens will be asked to answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to the question:
Do you support the End of Life Choice Act 2019 coming into force?
It seems like an easy enough question, but the End of Life Choice Act 2019 does not appear to be clear in some important parts, particularly with respect to the rights of those who do not want to be involved in euthanasia.
A significant provider of hospice care, Hospice New Zealand, is seeking an urgent court hearing to clarify some aspects of the act.
The New Zealand Herald reports that a court application lodged by the group asks for clarity on the following questions:
- “Whether an organisation such as a hospice can conscientiously object to Assisted Dying and operate a "euthanasia-free" service.
- Whether a district health board or other funding agency can decline to fund or contract with an organisation if it does not agree to provide assisted dying services.
- Whether the Act's mandatory obligations on a health practitioner override the ethical, clinical or professional judgments of that practitioner and their obligations under the Code of Health and Disability Consumers' Rights.
- Whether a health practitioner may exercise a right of conscientious objection on the basis that they hold as a core value that they must not act in a way that is contrary to their ethical, clinical or professional judgment and obligations.”
These are significant questions and it is concerning that the New Zealand public are being asked to vote on a law that still lacks clarity in key areas of conscience.
Questions of conscience are important because as soon as a crisis hits, conscience is attacked. Look at what is happening in Canada at the moment: the Canadian Association of MAID Assessors and Providers is lobbying to force health care facilities that do not allow euthanasia to occur on their premises to do so during the COVID-19 pandemic. They are using the crisis to attack the rights of medical professionals and patients in currently ‘euthanasia free zones.’
It is important that the conscience rights in New Zealand are clarified urgently, and that – if necessary – the vote is delayed until the full effect of the legislation is clear.
This also leads to the question about what else is still unclear in the legislation. How can New Zealanders be expected to vote on a law that the courts are being asked to interpret? And will vulnerable people be at risk as a result?