International

New Zealand pays $1000 to doctors who euthanize ‘severely hospitalized’ COVID-19 patients

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The New Zealand government has announced that patients admitted to the hospital for COVID-19 can be killed via euthanasia, according to Scoop.

In November, anti-euthanasia group #DefendNZ asked the New Zealand Ministry of Health (MOH) questions about the practice of the nation’s End of Life Choice Act (EOLC Act). One of these questions was, “Could a patient who is severely hospitalised with Covid-19 potentially be eligible for assisted suicide or euthanasia under the Act if a health practitioner viewed their prognosis as less than 6 months?”

The EOLC Act states that a person who has a “terminal illness that is likely to end the person’s life within 6 months” may die by euthanasia. Eligibility for both euthanasia and assisted suicide is determined by the attending medical practitioner and an independent medical practitioner.

Doctors receive a government fee of $1,000 plus expenses for each person they kill through euthanasia.

The MOH confirmed that such patients with COVID could be killed by lethal injection under the new euthanasia law. This includes patients who are considered to be dying from COVID or those who have extreme suffering from its effects. The MOH stated, “A terminal illness is most often a prolonged disease where treatment is not effective.”

READ: New report shows negative impacts of euthanasia on palliative care in Canada

As pointed out by Scoop, “[T]here is nothing concrete about the phrase ‘most often’, in fact, its inclusion in this specific context clearly seems to suggest that the MOH considers the definition of terminal illness to be subjective and open to interpretation.” In addition, the MOH thinks that medical practitioners are the ones who are to make the decision on whether or not a condition is considered terminal.

“In light of this vague interpretation, it is reasonable to suggest that COVID-19 could be classified as a ‘terminal illness’ depending on the prognosis of the patient and the subjective judgments of the AMP and independent medical practitioner. This feels like we’ve been sold one thing, and been delivered another,” said #DefendNZ spokesperson Henoch Kloosterboer.

The MOH also told #DefendNZ, “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.”

UK Baroness Finlay of Llandaff, a professor of palliative medicine, said the New Zealand euthanasia law contradicts the fundamental purpose of medicine to heal the sick. “It is bizarre that a country which has been trying to protect [its] citizens by closing down completely from a virus from which people can fully recover … is now suggesting that these patients should be killed by their doctors. It turns the ethos of medicine on its head.” She continued, “You really cannot predict death 100 per cent. So why not support them while they are dying and leave the door open in case they are in the group that defies all odds and recovers completely.”

According to the Catholic Herald, only 96 of New Zealand’s 16,000 doctors have said they will participate in assisted dying.

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