Submissions on Act Party leader David Seymour’s End of Life Choice Bill closed yesterday. Photo / Andrew Warner

Legalising euthanasia could lead to the erosion of rights for disabled people who choose to live, according to disability rights advocates.

Disability Rights Commissioner Paula Tesoriero said the End of Life Choice Bill undermines years of work to change perceptions of disabled people in New Zealand and poses significant risks to them.

The risks included inadequate safeguards for disabled people with incurable medical conditions, whose lives could be devalued and at worst, coerced into choosing an early death.

“It’s my role to reflect the concerns of the disability community and what I am hearing is that there are significant concerns about this Bill, particularly the inclusion of grievous and irremediable (but non-terminal) medical conditions,” Tesoriero said.

She outlined her concerns regarding the End of Life Choice Bill in a submission to the Justice Select Committee.

“Much of the discussion so far has centred around the Bill allowing people with a terminal illness to end their life on their own terms.

“However, this Bill has wider implications for the disability community – it is not just limited to terminal illness.”

She said it was imperative that all people have the same freedom of choice in life before New Zealand considers legislating choice in death.

“The Bill does not reflect the reality for many disabled New Zealanders and undermines many years of hard work by disability advocates to change the way that society thinks about disability.

“Before we start talking about how disabled people can end their lives, we should be talking about how they can be supported to live their lives to their fullest potential,” she said.

Her key recommendations were that:

  • The Bill should not be passed into law in its current form;
  • The process and proposed safeguards outlined in the Bill are inadequate;
  • The Bill does not protect the interests of disabled and vulnerable members of the community;
  • It contains insufficient provisions and protections around the provision of appropriate information, informed consent, assessing capacity, and determining if undue influence or coercion exist.

There was also no “cooling off” period and the oversight and approval mechanisms are inadequate, she said.

Tesoriero said legislative change in relation to end of life choice cannot be considered in isolation from the standard and current services and resources available to those who experience serious but non-terminal conditions or palliative care services.

“In its current form, the Bill undermines the position of disabled and vulnerable members of our community. It devalues their lives and poses significant risks to them, as individuals and as a group.

“This Bill falls far short of the mark. If a bill is to be passed in some form, it is vital that the concerns I have outlined are addressed in full consultation with the disability community.”

Her concerns have been echoed by IHC, which said the Bill links assisted dying, quality of life and disability.

IHC Director of Advocacy Trish Grant said the Bill’s stated purpose, to give “people with terminal illness or a grievous and irremediable medical condition” the option of requesting assisted dying had far wider implications than intended for people with disabilities, placing them at undue risk.

“The bill’s current wording around ‘grievous and irremediable medical conditions’ is ambiguous and implies that the burden of any kind of medical condition could be justification for ending someone’s life,” Grant said.

“Further, the Bill assumes all people in New Zealand have access to the same level of care and support to enable them to have the best quality of life and therefore able to make an informed choice about their right to die.

“But we know people with disabilities do not receive the same level of care and support.”

People with disabilities have some of the worst health outcomes in New Zealand, with higher rates of potentially preventable deaths, mental health conditions, and early onset age-related health issues.

Men and women with intellectual disability live, respectively, 18 and 23 years shorter than the general population, she said.

“The unintended consequences of the Bill need to be acknowledged and remedied before any comprehensive decision on the Bill’s merits can be made.”

Source: NZ Herald

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