By: Isaac Davison

Act Party David Seymour says he is willing to make “constructive” changes to his bill to legalise euthanasia. Photo / Bevan Conley

Act Party leader David Seymour says he may change his euthanasia bill to allow doctors to completely remove themselves from any role in assisted dying.

The End of Life Choice Bill, which is before Parliament, allows doctors to decline a patient’s request for assisted dying, but it requires them to refer the patient on to another doctor who is willing to participate in euthanasia.

A doctor who fails to do so would commit an offence punishable by a fine of up to $10,000 or three months’ jail.

This has upset advocacy groups, who say that it undermines a doctor’s ability to make a conscientious objection to euthanasia.

“By referring a patient, a medical practitioner may feel complicit in an act to which they are strongly ethically opposed,” said Royal NZ College of General Practitioners president Tim Malloy.

The penalties appeared to be a coercive way of getting doctors to be involved in assisted dying, he said.

Seymour said he was willing to consider amendments to his private members bill, including to the clause that compels doctors to refer patients on.

“I think you can equally argue that it’s not the most arduous thing to do for their patient,” he told the Herald.

“But that’s an example of something that’s not set in stone. Potentially there will be changes like that.”

The college of GPs said patients wanting an assisted death should have to self-refer themselves to a new register of willing doctors which will be established under the law change.

The bill requires two doctors to approve a patient’s request for assisted dying, and the second doctor will be randomly selected.

Another group representing doctors, the NZ Medical Association (NZMA), said this proposed safeguard was flawed.

Appearing before the Justice Committee in Auckland yesterday, chairwoman Kate Baddock said the pool of doctors willing to take part in euthanasia was small. This would inevitably lead to patients shopping around for a willing doctor, Baddock said.

The NZMA was opposed to the law change because euthanasia could not be reconciled with doctors’ ethical principles. It also said many of the legal protections were flawed.

Seymour said the NZMA did not speak for all doctors, because its membership only equated to about 20 per cent of the 14,000 practising doctors in New Zealand.

The Royal NZ College of GPs, which represents 4800 doctors, said it did not endorse euthanasia but it was up to individual doctors to make their own decisions within the limits of the law.

However, the college wanted further changes to the legislation. The changes included raising the minimum age from 18 to 25, narrowing the eligibility criteria, and making it explicit that people could not use mental health conditions as grounds for assisted dying.

As it stands, the law change applies to people with a terminal illness, a prognosis of six months to live, or a “grievous and irremediable condition”, and requires that they be in an “advanced stage of irreversible decline”.

It passed its first hurdle comfortably by 76 votes to 44, but many of the MPs who supported it said their vote was not guaranteed beyond the select committee stage.

End of Life Choice Bill

• Passed first reading 76 votes to 44
• Public hearings now underway, with record 35,000 submissions to be considered
• Justice Committee expected to report back in March

Source: NZ Herald

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