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Is euthanasia vote a threat to hospices?

Opinion Piece

by Ken Orr, Right to Life spokesman

Ken Orr

Right to Life believes that the euthanasia referendum to be conducted at the general election in September could result in the Government withholding funding for palliative care for hospices in New Zealand. The objective would be to compel hospices, against their conscience, to allow doctors under the End of Life Choice Act to terminate the lives of patients within a hospice with a lethal injection.

The High Court judgement of Justice J. Mallon, in the case of Hospice NZ v the Attorney General, highlights the threat to world-class palliative care provided by Hospice NZ within its 33 hospices.

Hospice NZ had sought an urgent hearing in May in the High Court in Wellington to ask three questions. One was whether New Zealand’s proposed euthanasia law, the subject of a referendum, would have the effect of defeating the conscience right of hospices to protect their patients by prohibiting the killing of patients under the End of Life Choice Bill.

Justice Mallon in his judgement supported the right of hospices to prohibit euthanasia, however there was nothing to prevent the government authority from withholding health-care funding if a hospice refused to allow euthanasia.

The Attorney General submitted to the court [131] that if a DHB determined the most efficient way to fund assisted dying services in its area was to fund a provider who is willing to provide both palliative care and assisted dying services, it must be entitled to do so. Such a decision would not be to discriminate against those holding a conscientious objection. Rather, it would be one of effective allocation of funding to service providers in accordance with the statutory requirement on a DHB that it “seek the optimum arrangement for the most effective and efficient delivery of health services in order to meet local, regional and national needs”.

Euthanasia is not health care, it is about terminating the life of a vulnerable patient. It is diametrically opposed to the objective of palliative care, to neither hasten nor postpone death.

Euthanasia represents a culture of death. It is incompatible with palliative care, which represents a culture of life. The culture of death will not compromise, it demands complete subservience. A right to die would ultimately become a duty to die.

There are 33 hospices in New Zealand providing palliative care for those seriously ill or in a terminal condition. Government funding accounts for 60 percent of the funding required to maintain hospices.

Right to Life believes that the intention of the Government to compel hospices to accept that doctors could terminate the lives of patients with a lethal dose or assist them to commit suicide was clearly indicated in the defeat of the Supplementary Order Paper 295 moved by the Hon Michael Woodhouse. This SOP sought to amend the End of Life Choice Bill by upholding the right of hospices to “conscientiously object to including euthanasia”. It was defeated by 68 to 52.

This important amendment was opposed by the Prime Minister and 33 Labour MPs, supported by nine NZ First MPs, eight Green MPs and 15 National MPs.

It is Right to Life’s belief that it is the intention of the Government, if they succeed with the referendum, to incorporate euthanasia as a health service in hospices.

  1. Jack Marshall says:

    Dear Ken Orr,
    Death is a scary thing, but we all gotta do it. The big sleep. The long wink. Pushing up daisies. I hope there’s coffee in heaven.
    It’s great to hear your point of view and it is wise you raise these questions. Still, it is a shame how you’ve framed the debate. You say the government will ‘compel’ hospices and doctors to kill ‘vulnerable patients’ with a ‘lethal injection’.
    For a person to choose to end their life, the bill states A) They must suffer from a terminal illness that is likely to end the person’s life within 6 months, and B) the person experiences unbearable suffering that cannot be relieved and, C) is competent to make an informed decision about assisted dying.
    If you disagree with that. That is fine. Otherwise, leave your alarmist language at home.

  2. Tanya Battel, Brisbane says:

    Mr Orr is known for his right to life views and that is fine but for those of us living with a terminal illness – and all the nitty gritty that accompanies the diagnosis and treatments that rarely is spoken about, he should be ashamed for his “scare-mongering” tactics – which he does so well. I note his reference to “euthanasia representing a death culture” – being diagnosed with a terminal and life-limiting illness IS a death culture. It is unfathomable that we, the terminally ill, are caught in the battle between palliative care and voluntary assisted dying legislation. They are not mutually exclusive – palliative care SHOULD be offered for those who wish to use the services but voluntary assisted dying legislation should also be an option for when palliative care cannot alleviate the pain and suffering. If Mr Orr took the time to talk to the terminally ill, the families left traumatised by their loved ones’ death and palliative care/general nurses, he would learn much about the suffering that occurs way before the last 6 months. Colleagues supporting the legislation assure me that this type of media from Mr Orr is designed to scare. On behalf of those of us who are terminally ill – please consult us before you offer your opinions as to how we should die. It’s 2020 and there are kinder ways of dying.

  3. Susie Byrne, South Australia says:

    As the convenor of South Australian Nurses Supporting Choices in Dying I find that this kind of language being used totally abhorrent. VAD laws across the world are developed from a place of compassion and kindness. A few points:
    Remember the word Voluntary
    As nurses, we do and always will, advocate for increased funding for palliative care, whose experts admit that 3-4% of patients do not get the relief they need not to suffer intolerably.
    The patients who qualify for VAD are already dying and suffering to an extent that is no longer acceptable to them.
    A proportion of terminally ill people who do not have access to VAD will take their own lives in violent ways. Think of the loved ones who find them and the first responders to have to attend.
    VAD should be a part of end-of-life care that is offered. Working hand-in-hand with the best of palliative care.
    Religious hierarchy should have no say in how we die. Not everyone shares your beliefs – and when your own institutions have been cleansed of all the illegal and immoral wrongdoings of centuries, you will still have no voice to demand others follow your doctrine. You have lost the right to have a voice at the table. You do not speak for the majority of Christians as shown by the ABC Vote Compass results that 75% support VAD.

  4. Davina Filie, Queensland says:

    My mum died on 16.6.20 from metastatic breast cancer which had spread to her bones. I, her only child, was her carer since diagnosis 20 months prior (diagnosed at stage 4). She was in palliative care for the final 17 days of her life. Seven days prior she went into ‘coma’ – morphine induced. She moaned in agony every time the nurses turned her which resulted in increased ‘breakthrough’ morphine and us watching in disbelief and heartbreak. She felt it, although I was told she wouldn’t remember it due to other meds given – but who knows? We certainly will remember it and be devastated by it. My partner and I (and our dogs) stayed with her the whole time apart from some quick visits back home. We were lucky to have some close friends stay when we quickly left to ensure she was never alone. We all watched her moan in agony. I wiped her secretions coming from her mouth for seven days. She had her last meal and drink seven days prior, so how she died was BEING STARVED AND DEHYDRATED TO DEATH.
    I don’t think ‘right to life’ groups realise the absolute heartbreak incurred by loved ones, not to mention PTSD. Although she lived her life with dignity this was NOT a dignified end. My mum was a beautiful, giving lady, an entertainer in Vietnam amongst many things and she DID NOT DESERVE THIS END. Please STOP with your technicalities not to ‘hasten or postpone’, as it is just that. Had she not gone through cancer treatment she may have gone earlier naturally, but we live in 2020 and treatment options are available to DELAY the end, not CURE. Please think about my beautiful mum when you vote.

  5. Craig Young, Palmerston North says:

    I think the question is whether there is substantive proof to validate Mr Orr’s assertions from jurisdictions where physician-assisted suicide is legal already? Has hospice care suffered in those jurisdictions?

    1. Ken Orr, Christchurch says:

      Tanya Battel supports, under the guise of health care, legislation that would empower doctors to give a lethal injection to a patient or assist in their suicide. Everyone should die with dignity, however there is no dignity in being killed by your doctor. Euthanasia violates medical ethics that demands that doctors neither cause or hasten the death of their patients. The total legal prohibition of the taking of the life of another innocent human being is the foundation of the law and of medicine, we violate it at our peril. Doctors are trained to be carers, not serial killers. It is imperative that we have a medical profession that we can trust. Would you entrust your life and that of your family into the hands of a doctor who may consider that you are a burden on the health services and that he is prepared to give you a lethal injection as a treatment option? A majority yes vote at the euthanasia referendum will destroy the medical profession, it would drive out of the profession all those who refuse to give a lethal injection to their patients. Will we then require that students at medical school be trained on how to kill their patients? If you want to receive a lethal injection please leave our doctors out of it and let them carry on caring for their patients.

      Susie Byrne, please do not seek to make killing acceptable by disguising it as compassion and kindness. It is a violation of your nursing ethics and a betrayal of your noble profession.

      1. Craig Young says:

        Mr Orr, I would urge you to find corroborating evidence from the jurisdictions to substantiate your claims. I am also opposed to the decriminalisation of euthanasia and while you have a perfect right to engage in ethical assertions against a medical practice that you abhor, you have also raised an important question that needs analysis, corroboration or rebuttal. Therefore, is there any evidence from Switzerland, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg or the US states that have decriminalised, that hospice care standards and funding have suffered as a consequence?