NEW ZEALAND PUTS ASSISTED DYING BILL TO REFERENDUM

-Saumya Chowdhary

BACKGROUND:

Euthanasia is currently illegal in New Zealand, and under Section 179 of the 1961 New Zealand Crimes Act, “aid and abet suicide” is illegal. Two attempts in New Zealand to allow legal euthanasia have failed to pass through Parliament. A Death with Dignity Bill in 1995 failed by 61 votes to 29, and a Death with Dignity Bill in 2003 failed by 60 votes to 58 in its first reading. ACT MP David Seymour joined the Private Member’s bill ballot at the End of Life Options Bill in October 2015. The bill passed its first reading 76–44 in December 2017, its second reading 70–50 in June 2019 and its third reading 69–51 in November 2019.

The End of Life Options Bill is a New Zealand Parliament bill that aims to offer the option of seeking assistance in dying to people with a terminal illness or a grievous and irremediable medical condition.

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The content of the End of Life Choice Bill is-

ELIGIBILITY FOR ASSISTED DYING: The End of Life Choice Bill allows New Zealand citizens and permanent residents aged 18 and older to qualify for assistance in dying if they are suffering from a terminal disease that is likely to end their lives within 6 months or suffer from a severe and irremediable medical condition; if they are in an advanced state of irreversible deterioration incapacity; and they experience unbearable suffering that cannot be relieved in such a way as to be tolerable; and they have the ability to understand the nature of assisted dying and the consequences of assisted dying for him or her.

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PROCESS OF ASSISTED DYING: A person who wishes to have an assisted death must contact their attending medical practitioner and is qualified under the above requirements. After first speaking to the client about their condition, the essence of assisted dying, alternative end-of-life care methods, and many other topics, the medical practitioner must complete a prescribed form. Once the request is confirmed, in the presence of the practitioner, the patient must sign and date the prescribed form. Once the form has been completed, the attending medical practitioner must confirm that the person is eligible for assisted dying, and after that, an independent medical practitioner confirms that the patient is qualified for assisted dying. If there is a dispute between the two practitioners or if it is suggested by either practitioner, a third opinion must be obtained by an independent expert appointed by the SCENZ Group. The patient applying for assisted dying must then choose the medication and delivery method that will end their life. Once the medication has been given, the attending medical practitioner must complete a prescribed form notifying the registrar at the Ministry of Health that an assisted death has occurred. The form must then be forwarded to a review committee by the registrar.

CURRENT ISSUE:

The New Zealand euthanasia referendum will be a binding referendum on whether to legalize voluntary euthanasia for those with a terminal disease and less than six months left to live if approved by two doctors at the New Zealand general election in 2020. The latest election and referendum likely date is November 21, 2020. New Zealand is the first country to vote for a referendum on euthanasia.

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CONCLUSION:

The bill also includes the option to receive medical assistance to certain individuals with terminal illnesses in order to end their lives. In order to be eligible for medical assistance in death, there is a range of criteria that must be met. People who seek medical assistance in dying must be 18 years of age or older, a resident of New Zealand, and suffer from a terminal disease that is likely to end the life of the person within six months. “In addition, the patient must be ‘ in an advanced state of irreversible deterioration in physical capacity ‘ and experience ‘ unbearable pain that cannot be resolved in a way that the person finds to be tolerable.’ Ultimately, the individual must be sufficiently competent ‘ to make an informed decision on assisted death.”

The bill also provides procedures and safeguards for those who choose to get medical help in dying. The bill requires two different medical professionals to determine separately that the patient is competent and capable of obtaining medical help in dying.

The bill is set to be voted on in a referendum asking whether the bill is supported by members of the public.

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