That’s one way to cut on your workload
An Official Information Act reply to The Defender, from the Ministry of Health, which says that patients with COVID-19 could be eligible for euthanasia, has left National MP Simon O’Connor disappointed but not surprised.
In November The Defender wrote to the New Zealand Ministry of Health (MOH) to ask some important questions about the practice of euthanasia and assisted suicide in New Zealand.
In light of the serious deficiencies in the End of Life Choice Act (EOLCA), and concerns that have been raised by healthcare professionals, we felt it was crucial to put some urgent questions to the MOH.
In our Official Information Act (OIA) request we asked the following question:
“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?”
There were several reasons why The Defender wanted to seek clarity from the MOH about this issue.
Firstly, New Zealand is currently described as being in a precarious position when it comes to COVID-19 and hospital resources. In light of this, it would not be hard to envisage a situation in which a speedy and sizeable rise in COVID-19 hospitalisations could result in pressure to utilise euthanasia and assisted suicide as tools to resolve such a serious crisis.
Overseas commentators have raised the prospect of these kind of unethical motivations since early in this pandemic.
Last year’s tragic case of the elderly Canadian woman who had an assisted suicide to avoid another COVID-19 lockdown highlights exactly why caution is warranted in relation to COVID-19 and euthanasia.
“The lack of stringent safeguards in the EOLCA raised red flags with us. Could a patient with COVID-19 find their way into the eligibility criteria? And, if so, what serious risks would this pose to the already often-vulnerable elderly members of our communities?” says The Defender editor Henoch Kloosterboer.
The MOH responded to our OIA request on Tuesday (7th of December, 2021).
Their reply to The Defender started on a more promising note:
“There are clear eligibility criteria for assisted dying. These include that a person must have a terminal illness that is likely to end their life within six months.”
But then their response becomes more disturbing (emphasis added):
“A terminal illness is most often a prolonged disease where treatment is not effective. The EOLC Act states eligibility is determined by the attending medical practitioner (AMP), and the independent medical practitioner.
This raises serious concerns.