Kill Seymour’s Bill | The Jackal

22 Aug 2017

Kill Seymour’s Bill

The end of life choice Bill presented by Act party leader David Seymour might seem like a good idea at first, especially for those who’re suffering a terminal illness. But really it stems from a belief that if a person has no further productive value to society, they should be discarded, or at least encouraged to stop being a burden on the taxpayer.

Sure, there are cases where the punishment of a person who has assisted a family member or friend to take their own life is disproportionate to the crime, and there certainly should be changes made on compassionate grounds to the law. More leeway could also be provided to a judge on how they interpret the current legislation.

However the euthanasia bill doesn’t propose to do any of that.

Instead, the End of Life Choice Bill (PDF) contradicts itself on the first page where it outlines what circumstances would make somebody eligible to legally end their own life.

Those circumstances are:

• that the person making the request must be mentally competent,
as attested by 2 medical practitioners:
• that the person suffers from a terminal illness which is likely to
cause death within 12 months, or from an irreversible physical
or mental condition that, in the person’s view, renders his or
her life unbearable:

How can a person be diagnosed as mentally competent if they have an irreversible mental condition? This proposal is like a can of worms. Seymour seems to envision that a psychiatric patient could be diagnosed as mentally capable of deciding to end his or her own life. With mental capacity being a contestable issue, this makes the proposed law change unworkable.

The Bill is specific that a person can be mentally competent enough to draw up a registered End of Life Directive that would allow assisted death because of their mental condition. For those who know what the Act party really stands for, such a law that would easily allow the disposal of mentally ill people is something that should start alarm bells ringing.

The fact that an end of life patient won’t have to consult family or a psychiatrist before their decision is acted upon by doctors is another serious failing. Effectively two doctors can determine if a mentally unwell person who isn’t likely to improve is able to decide to die.

Consider also the advances in pain medication and better palliative care and there’s really no question that this Bill should fail to pass its next reading. Furthermore, two similar Bills have already been unsuccessful in New Zealand, while there have been large advances in medical treatments in the interim. This is another good reason to vote this Bill down.

Of course most doctors are very level headed and wouldn't dream of even using the proposed law. However there are exceptions and those people already make thousands of incorrect decisions that cost New Zealand millions of dollars each year.

In April, Stuff reported:

ACC treatment injury claims tally $5.1b and many are preventable

ACC claims for injuries caused during medical treatment have ballooned by 66 per cent in the past five years – costing taxpayers  $418 million for last year alone.

"About half of these injuries are considered preventable," ACC board chairwoman Dame Paula Rebstock said.

Claims are increasing too, with the docket for the future costs of all treatment injuries tallied at $5.1 billion as of mid-2016.

Treatment injuries happen when people suffer personal injury during treatment from a registered health professional. The injury must have been caused by treatment, but not be a necessary part, or ordinary outcome, of the treatment.

Clearly the health system is already failing to ensure that many people are diagnosed and treated properly. There is no question that such failures would continue in an end of life choice scenario.

Is New Zealand really ready to hear stories of people’s lives being taken because they were misdiagnosed?

Our justice system already fails to value certain people’s lives properly by often imposing light sentences for manslaughter and murder. However, misdiagnosis that leads to a person’s death under this proposed law won’t even go through the courts.

The Bill specifically states that doctors and family members assisting the death are protected from civil or criminal liability. Is the government therefore ready to pay families millions of dollars through ACC where misdiagnosis occurs?

How many deaths under this proposed legislation is New Zealand willing to accept because of misdiagnosis each year? I would contend that it is none, and therefore this Bill should fail.