Is euthanasia vote a threat to hospices?
by Ken Orr, Right to Life spokesman
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  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.