New Zealand statistics show one to two people choose assisted suicide every week

assisted suicide, New Zealand

New figures out of New Zealand show that one to two people have chosen assisted suicide each week since the country legalized it near the end of 2021.

An article in New Zealand’s Herald reports that, since the End of Life Choice Act (EOLCA) went into effect November 7, 2021, 73 people have applied to end their lives, although “fewer than 20” have ultimately done so. This number is “expected to rise.”  According to Ann David, the President of the End of Life Choice Society, the reason that more people have not applied to end their lives via assisted suicide is because many people are unaware it is available. She told the Herald that most programs aimed at medically ending peoples’ lives have a “slow start.”

The EOLCA, passed by New Zealand’s legislature in 2019, was ratified by a referendum in October 2020 that one New Zealand pro-life group pointed out was based on widespread public misperceptions of what the law would entail, with some polling showing up to 80% of voters were uninformed about the realities of the law. 

READ: Study finds that more people support the idea of euthanasia after knowing someone with dementia

David claimed that New Zealand’s law was limited in its practical application. “If it’s not cancer, you’re not going to get an assisted death,” she said. “The criteria rules out most neurodegenerative diseases and other diseases because doctors simply can’t tell … or can’t pin it down to six months.”

But in December, the claim that even individuals with COVID-19 could qualify for assisted suicide under the law went viral. While some news organizations pushed back on the claim, Live Action News has reported that the law’s wording leaves room for this possibility. The New Zealand Ministry of Health (MOH) confirmed to pro-life group #DefendNZ that COVID-19 patients could be euthanized: “Eligibility [for assisted dying] is determined on a case-by-case basis; therefore, the Ministry cannot make definitive statements about who is eligible. In some circumstances, a person with COVID-19 may be eligible for assisted dying.”

Some have also raised concerns about the speed with which some applications are approved. Although most applications take four to six weeks according to the Herald, John Kleinsman with Catholic bioethics organization The Nathaniel Centre said he was alarmed when he heard that a certain application took only a matter of days. “It happened so quickly, without time to address what might have been deeper, underlying concerns — which is what palliative care is all about,” he said to the Herald.

Maryan Street, former New Zealand MP who had campaigned for the euthanasia law, expressed shock that one of her friends was among the first to apply for assisted suicide when the law was first passed. “I didn’t think for a moment that this legislation was going to apply so soon to a friend of mine,” Street said, according to the Herald. 

The country’s EOLCA has been criticized on many fronts, with critics saying it under-trains doctors in end-of-life care, exacerbates the lack of palliative care available in the country, and provides few safeguards to protect the most vulnerable.

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