A long-term inquiry submitted to New Zealand's parliament Wednesday did not recommend that assisted suicide and euthanasia be legalized in the country.
“We've tried to distil all the arguments and our recommendation to both the Parliament and the people of New Zealand is to read this report and come to a deeper understanding of what's been asked around assisted suicide and euthanasia,” Simon O’Connor, chair of the parliament's health committee, which prepared the report, said Aug. 2.
The report was an investigation of euthanasia and assisted suicide and attitudes toward them, prompted by a request from former New Zealand Labour Party MP and assisted suicide advocate Maryan Street.
A bill to legalize voluntary euthanasia has been introduced in the New Zealand parliament, but it is unlikely to be passed before the end of the legislature's term later this month, according to the New Zealand Herald.
Having faced moral opponents and concerns about safeguards in the past, euthanasia bills have previously failed in the country. The effort was renewed, however, in 2014 after a Wellington lawyer’s battle with brain cancer gained political and media attention.
Lecretia Seales had petitioned New Zealand's High Court for the right to assisted suicide, and died from her cancer. Street introduced a petition in favor of legalizing assisted suicide shortly thereafter.
The health committee's subsequent inquiry heard from some 22,000 submitters, 80 percent of whom were opposed to a change in legislation that would allow for assisted suicide and euthanasia.
“But I don't think this is simply a numbers game. It is about actually understanding the arguments for and against and making a decision about which ones are correct,” O'Connor said.
The primary argument against legalization, the report concluded, was that “the public would be endangered.”
“They cited concern for vulnerable people, such as the elderly and the disabled, those with mental illnesses, and those susceptible to coercion. Others argued that life has an innate value and that introducing assisted dying and euthanasia would explicitly undermine that idea. To do so would suggest that some lives are worth more than others. There were also concerns that, once introduced, eligibility for assisted dying would rapidly expand well beyond what was first intended.”
The report noted that “some of remain unconvinced that the models seen overseas provide adequate protection for vulnerable people.”
O'Connor commented that “it probably comes down to the simple question of 'How many errors would Parliament would be willing to accept in this space?'”
Other opponents, including the Care Alliance and Prime Minister Bill English, a practicing Catholic, have expressed concern that the bill would lead to the abuse of elderly, mentally ill, and disabled citizens, as well as undermine the dignity of the human person.
The health committee wrote in its report that “we were concerned to hear that there is a lack of awareness about the role of palliative care, that access to it is unequal, and that there are concerns about the sustainability of the workforce.”
They recommended that the government consider how “it can better communicate the excellent services that palliative carers provide, address the unequal access, consider how palliative care is funded, and address the workforce shortages.”
They also encouraged the government to improve access to grief counselling and similar services for those at risk of suicide.
The bill to legalize voluntary euthanasia was introduced by David Seymour, an MP of ACT New Zealand and the party's only MP. The bill would allow euthanasia for mentally sound adults suffering from grievous and incurable medical conditions who request it.
Voluntary euthanasia is supported by the Green Party of Aotearoa New Zealand.
The New Zealand National Party, which is the center of New Zealand's coalition government, has ruled out legalizing euthanasia.
The Labour party has said legalizing euthanasia is not among its priorities, and New Zealand First has said a change in the law should go through a referendum rather than parliament.