Submission on the Right to Die bill

The government is looking at the law around assisted suicide and the potential of a bill to bring a law change.  Late last year a small group of concerned people from the church began drafting a submission to go before the select committee.

The busy Christmas and January period is not an easy time to collate a submission but one has hurriedly put together and agreed to by the church elders as a submission they are willing to send under the church name.

The submission is below. if you have comments or thoughts please let Alan know via email – ajamieson@swbc.org.nz

 

The Right to Die Bill

Submission by Southwest Baptist church

1. Introduction

In this submission we articulate, on behalf of Southwest Baptist Church, our opposition to the End of Life Choice Bill. This statement, reflecting the research and life experience of multiple people, explains our objections to the Bill .These objections are formed from several perspectives including – medical, psychiatric and biblical and consider the effects of voluntary euthanasia within the societies that have already legalised it. We believe that New Zealand society is immeasurably better off without Physician Assisted Suicide being legalised.

2. South West Baptist Church

South West Baptist is a large multi-ethnic church situated in Christchurch. It has a membership of over 1100 people, weekly attendances of approximately 1400, and is particularly known for its work in the community through a large number of ministries.

Today 24 ministries started by church members are providing more than 40 community services connecting with over 2000 people each week. Collectively the church began ministries which employ over 300 staff, with hundreds of volunteers assisting. The annual ministry expenditure is over $13 million. These ministries are as diverse as a community preschool, work among at-risk children, a budgeting service that provides loans at no interest, and the largest provider of mental health services in Christchurch outside the hospital system.

South West Baptist is particularly effective in youth work founding the Spreydon Youth Community (SYC) and the 24-7 Youthwork which places youth workers in intermediate and secondary schools nationwide.

3. Foundational Statement

As a church, we believe that God is the author of all life. Because of this, life has inherent value and human beings should not take that into our own hands, as it is not our role to ‘play God.’

4. South West Baptist perspective on the proposed ‘End of Life Choice’ bill.

As a church, we believe it is not the role of government to enforce faith-based directives, or make decisions purely based on Christian doctrine. However, as humans and New Zealand citizens, we affirm the universal, inherent worth of human life. In light of this, the rationale behind the writing of this bill must be examined; its assumptions about the suffering and the value of life will, if put into practise, fundamentally alter the way we view and treat the gravely ill and elderly. Euthanasia creates a society in which one’s value is determined by one’s own sense of comfort or suffering, which (in a disturbing number of cases) is often subject to the prejudices and mistreatment  by others. We as a church are strongly opposed to the proposed bill.

5. Medical and Psychiatric Concerns

The bill states that voluntary euthanasia will be an option for people who meet (amongst other criteria) the following;

“(c) suffers from-

(i) a terminal illness or other medical condition that is likely to end his or her life within 6 months; or

(ii) a grievous and irremediable medical condition; and

(d)  is in an advanced state of irreversible decline in capability; and

(e)   experiences unbearable suffering that cannot be relieved in a manner that he or she considers tolerable; and

(f)   has the ability to understand –

(i)             the nature of assisted dying; and

(ii)           the consequences for him or her of assisted dying.”

While there are several problems with the wording of this bill; the definition of terminal illness is not clear, nor is the distinction between ‘terminal’ and ‘chronic’. What is evident in the wording of the bill, is the belief that ‘value of life’ is somehow determined by the level of pain or suffering one is experiencing. We do not agree with this worrying precedent. If the experience of pain or suffering is the measure of the value of life, this creates a sense that one’s worth is dependent on one’s sense of comfort. Unfortunately, this line of thinking is not without real-life impact. According to a report conducted by the Oregon state government in 2013, physical pain was not one of the top reasons for seeking euthanasia, whereas ‘the fear of burdening others’ was. If The Right to Die Bill is passed, we risk becoming a society where those who require care and aid will see themselves as placing undue burden upon others and, in turn may seek to end their lives prematurely because of this.

Additionally, the issue of mental competency needs to be addressed. Depression and anxiety have pervasive effects on the psyche as articulated in a 2006 editorial for medical website Onmedica;

“The college believes that psychiatric issues are of crucial importance when PAS is considered, and point out that, while clear diagnoses of severe depression or psychosis may occur in this group of people, more frequently, judgement may be coloured by mild depression, mild cognitive impairment and pressure from others. Depression is a subtle insidious condition, which hugely influences people’s psychological processes…”

‘Psychiatrists oppose assisted dying bill’,Onmedica

Tuesday, 25 April 2006

Depression (along with other mental illnesses) can be a factor in the decision to euthanize, and cannot be ignored.  The Onmedica article goes on to say “Once a person’s depression is treated effectively most (98-99%) will subsequently change their minds about wanting to die. In persons suffering with painful, disabling and terminal illnesses, depression is very common.” As the statistics from Oregon reveal, feeling like a burden on others is a leading reason people opt for euthanasia, and the World Health Organisation identifies the ‘burdensome feeling’ as a common symptom of depression; even in milder, harder to diagnose strains. With judgement impaired in this way, individuals cannot make a fully rational, informed decision and PAS becomes a ‘solution’ for depression.

In light of the difficulties surrounding determining mental competency, the language and practice surrounding PAS must also be evaluated, particularly with regard to consent. The Right to Die Bill hinges on the concept of consent – a concept which has been treated with ambiguity in the countries/territories where euthanasia has been legalised. According to an anonymous survey conducted among Dutch physicians in 2010, there were as many as 300 cases of non-voluntary euthanasia recorded that year. This is disturbing; if purported safeguards are so easily transgressed, involuntary euthanasia becomes a danger to anyone simply considering PAS as an option.

6. The Age of Consent

The issue of consent is also called into question with regard to children. In Holland, children from the ages of 12-16 are legally allowed to opt for euthanasia (with the consent of their parents) despite not being adults and therefore less inclined to make a fully informed, rational decision (J. Pereira, 2011). In 2005, the Groningen Protocol made euthanasia legal for newborns and infants who are expected to have “no hope of good quality of life”.

Currently, the right to die Bill proposes making voluntary euthanasia legal for citizens of 18 years or older. However, as the Netherlands cases demonstrate, the legalisation of euthanasia leads to a mentality that is very easily extended to citizens of all ages.

7.  A church member’s personal perspective

Regarding the proposed bill and the intended outcome of ‘death with dignity’ a Southwest Baptist member (and nurse working in hospice care) had this to say;

“As a nurse I see the greatest examples of love, care, and human spirit within the most desperate situations. Early in my career caregivers working alongside children with severe disabilities awed me with their love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness and faithfulness. I had not witnessed humanity so powerfully before and have seen it repeated in palliative care situations and my current workplace providing Level 6 Dementia Care.

In the worst situations humanities brightest stars shine. Further still, these bright lights often lead clients and family to find a depth of human spirit and experience they never thought possible. There is a chance in euthanizing someone that we miss out on some of life’s most challenging but rewarding times of personal growth.”

8. Conclusion

The Right to Die Bill has the very real potential to reduce society’s view of life to simple terms of pain and comfort, the useful and burdensome. To view our fellow, suffering citizens as somehow less valuable is to act in a profoundly inhuman way.

For these reasons, Southwest Baptist Church strongly opposes the Right to Die Bill and advises that it be rejected.