New Zealand doctor calls for euthanasia drug to be made available in pharmacies
‘If you’re aged over 18 and you sign a form of consent, then people should be able to make that choice and we leave this issue at that,’ says medical specialist
By Carla Penman
An Auckland medical specialist argues making a drug to assist dying available in pharmacies would be far easier to manage than bringing in legislation.
Dr Stephen Child has spoken to NZH Focus about his view on ACT MP David Seymour’s End of Life Choice Bill that passed its first reading in Parliament in December.
It will legalise assisted dying in cases where individuals have a terminal illness that is likely to end his or her life within six months.
Dr Child says the conversation isn’t really as much about opposed or supportive of euthanasia but whether it can be a perfectly written piece of legislation that gives the rights to those who want to end their life, without causing harm to people.
He says he’s particularly concerned about the concept of “vulnerable people” under the bill.
Child says for those who want to end their lives with dignity, there are simpler, more logical solutions that could be considered.
“Let’s make the drug available in pharmacies. And if you’re aged over 18 and you sign a form of consent, then people should be able to make that choice and we leave this issue at that,” he says.
“But of course that’s really difficult to do because some people might go and get the medication because they’re depressed.”
Child says it’s important to look at how various countries have adopted euthanasia laws over the past 14 years.
“Interestingly enough, in the Netherlands … Only a third of people who request euthanasia or assisted suicide have their request granted. Think about that, that means for ... 10 people who go and say ‘I would like to end my life’, the doctor has to look them in the eye and say to two thirds of them ‘no, your decision is irrational, I’m not going to support your decision’.
“I don’t want to be the person in the profession, I don’t want the doctors to be in the profession, having to look you in the eye and decide whether your decision to end your life is a rational one or an irrational one.”
In the United States, he says 48 per cent of people in Oregon list “burden to others” as their primary reason for requesting euthanasia.
“Does that mean they’re making an independent decision for a rational suicide or is there a degree of coercion in their decision-making?”
“It’s a minefield of issues rather than just a case of a right to end my life with dignity.”
He adds that it’s difficult for doctors to 100 per cent offer a diagnosis, let alone give an accurate six-month prognosis.
“We’re not very good at predicting less than six months. In Oregon, someone went three and a half years after two doctors declared them having six months to live.”
Looking further down the track, Child says if the bill were to pass, there would need to be a huge training overhaul in the industry.
“It will totally impact on the way the medical profession reacts with patients, with the way we do palliative care, with the way we view irrational suicides.”
Public submissions on the bill close on February 20.