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Group organizes to fight New Zealand’s disturbing new assisted suicide law

assisted suicide, New Zealand

As New Zealand’s problematic assisted suicide law came into effect on November 7, a group of alarmed citizens is stepping up where their government hasn’t, to protect vulnerable people in their country. 

#DefendNZ, which describes itself as “a grassroots movement of diverse people – young and old, of all ethnicities and backgrounds, and from a full range of political and religious persuasions,” relaunched the same day the law went into effect. 

“Today our nation has undergone one of the most seismic shifts in law, healthcare, and medical ethics in its entire history. As of this moment, some New Zealanders now wield the state-sanctioned legal power to deliberately end the lives of others, or to assist in their suicides,” said #DefendNZ spokesperson Henoch Kloosterboer, according to SCOOP. “To think that there will be no harms that will come from this is to be unaware of the many problems unfolding overseas in the limited number of places that have also legalized these practices – and this includes the harm of wrongful killings.”

New Zealand’s End of Life Choice Act (EOLCA) went into effect after having been passed by New Zealand’s legislature in 2019 and 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. The country’s EOLCA has been criticized on many fronts, including under-training doctors in end-of-life care, exacerbating the lack of palliative care available in the country, and providing few safeguards to protect the most vulnerable.

READ: Are assisted suicide practitioners experimenting on vulnerable patients?

“The Act creates a new legal class of tens of thousands of people in New Zealand who are deemed by the state to be living lives so meaningless that the state is happy to condone and/or carry out their killing. Instead of ending a person’s suffering, it will end the person who suffers. The law is flawed. Its protections are flimsy. And its accountability mechanisms are feeble. Together we must protect, expose and improve to #DefendNZ,” asserts #DefendNZ’s website

The Ministry of Health’s Assisted Dying Service claims that the law applies to “New Zealanders aged 18 or over who have a terminal illness that is likely to end their life within six months,” according to the ministry’s website. The Assisted Dying Service claims that the law has “strict eligibility criteria to have an assisted death,” and the process requires “specific steps, medical assessments, and important safeguards.” 

Yet according to Euthanasia-Free NZ, the EOLCA has among the flimsiest protections of euthanasia laws around the world. The law does not require physicians to check for depression, and doctors do not have to validate mental competency on the day a patient receives his or her lethal dose. Unlike many euthanasia laws, the EOLCA does not require a waiting period; a patient could be euthanized in as little as four days after requesting assisted suicide, all without needing to tell any loved ones. There is no requirement for a patient to receive treatment or palliative care first, and no requirement for a patient to consult with a specialist for medical treatment prior to being approved for euthanasia. Under the EOLCA, no independent witnesses are required at any stage of the process. 

#DefendNZ’s mission is focused on protesting the law, raising awareness about its dangers, and ultimately changing hearts and minds. #DefendNZ’s mission is to “protect the vulnerable from the inadequacies and risks created by the End of Life Choice Act (EOLCA),” by educating “patients, families, medical practitioners and wider society,” according to the group’s website. The group also seeks to “expose abuses, illegal practices, systematic failures, misinformation, and coercive marketing” as well as “improve authentic end-of-life care by lobbying the Government to make the Act safer and connecting people to support organisations.”

#DefendNZ’s website warns of the unintended consequences of assisted suicide laws like EOLCA by highlighting the very real dangers for people with disabilities, the elderly, and those with terminal illnesses. The group also argues that EOLCA will exacerbate ableism, ageism, and elder abuse. Examples of these kinds of tragic abuses are common in countries that have legalized assisted suicide. Statistics from the Netherlands showed that 208 people with mental disabilities were euthanized in 2020, as Live Action News reported — a number that has continued to increase yearly, up from 12 people killed due to mental disability in 2012.

“Some may have wrongly assumed that this debate was over now that the EOLCA has come into force, when what this actually means is that our advocacy for the vulnerable put at risk by this law is more critical than ever before,” said Kloosterboer, according to SCOOP.

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