The Church in New Zealand says that elderly people will be vulnerable to coercion to end their lives if an assisted suicide bill is allowed to continue its progress through the New Zealand Parliament.
Ninety percent of written submissions to a select committee considering the End of Life Choice Bill after its first reading in Parliament were opposed to its introduction, out of a record 38,000 written submissions.
Despite this, the bill passed its second reading on 26 June by a margin of 20 votes, 70 to 50.
Now a months-long process to finalise debate on the bill is anticipated from the end of July after MPs return from a three-week recess.
Director of the New Zealand Catholic Bioethics Centre, Dr John Kleinsman, who represents the Catholic bishops on the issue, is concerned about the inability of doctors, who would be the gatekeepers of euthanasia, to effectively detect coercion, especially amongst the elderly.
“Euthanasia devalues our elders and will increase the risk of abuse amongst some of the most vulnerable New Zealanders at a time when elder abuse is a growing problem,” he said in a statement.
“It is well known from overseas research that people choose assisted death above all for social and existential reasons that include loss of autonomy, loss of quality of life and fear of being a burden. It is not primarily about physical pain.
“Legalising euthanasia will lead to a situation where people who are elderly or disabled will find themselves having to justify their continued existence.“
Those who already see themselves as a burden will feel obligated ‘to do the right thing’, Dr Kleinsman said.
“All in the context of a growing aged population and increasing financial pressures on the health sector.
“No legislation can protect against this.”