The voting booths are almost open in this year’s General Election, in fact early voting opens on the 3rd of October and runs until Saturday the 17th October.
This year, we will also vote on two major social issues – if terminally-ill people should have the right to request help to die, and whether we should legalise recreational cannabis. Earlier we provided information on the proposed cannabis reform, which you can read here.
In this blog, we look at the End of Life Choice Act 2019. We have tried to summarise the Act. We don’t have a view on how you should vote, it’s up to you to decide whether to vote yes or no in these two referendums. The most important thing is to vote – have your say! Kia kaha.
The exact referendum question is: Do you support the End of Life Choice Act 2019 coming into force? You’ll be asked to vote yes or no.
The Act has already been through Parliament, but it has not come into force yet. MPs decided that it was important we all got to have our say. The Act gives people with a terminal illness the choice to request assisted dying. It will only become law if more than 50% of voters vote ‘yes’.
This is what’s known as a binding referendum. MPs must follow the public’s wishes. It will either happen, or, it won’t. On the cannabis reform, the incoming Government does not have to introduce the proposed changes.
What Do I Need To Know?
‘Assisted dying’ involves the terminally-ill person taking (or their doctor or nurse practitioner administering), a lethal dose of medication.
Some people, including the media, will refer to ‘assisted dying’ as euthanasia.
To be eligible for assisted dying a person must meet ALL of the following criteria:
• Be aged 18 years+
• Be a citizen or permanent resident of New Zealand
• Suffer from a terminal illness that’s likely to end your life within six months
• Have significant and ongoing decline in physical capability
• Experience unbearable suffering that cannot be eased
• Be able to make an informed decision about assisted dying
A person would NOT be eligible to ask for assisted dying if the only reason they give is that they are suffering from a mental disorder or mental illness, or have a disability of any kind, or are of advanced age.
The person’s doctor and an independent doctor must both agree the person meets all the criteria, is making an informed decision, and it’s their free choice (i.e. they’re not being pressured by anyone). The person has the right to change their mind at any stage.
They do not have to discuss their wish with anyone, but their doctor must encourage them to speak with whānau, friends and counsellors when making their decision.
Concerns have been raised whether a disproportionate number of Māori might choose to end their lives as a result of the inequality of care and racism that exists in our public health system.
Māori suffer terminal illnesses at a greater rate than non-Māori because we are not diagnosed or cared for in the same way. Should we be reliant on a health system that continues to fail us? Can the medical establishment be trusted to treat Māori in the same way they would a Pakeha patient when it comes to decisions around euthanasia? Will the vulnerable be adequately protected? The criteria are strict for a reason, which is to ensure people are protected.
Another hotly debated point is whether or not assisted dying is a transgression of tikanga Māori. The law is very different to the custom of our ancestors. If you’re interested in this debate, we’d encourage you to talk with your whānau and kaumatua or kuia.
A poll conducted for The Hui by Horizon Research earlier this year found 72% of Māori supported the End of Life Choice Act, and 58% of respondents did not think it was incompatible with tikanga Māori. A total of 55% felt that for the terminally ill, choosing to die was an act of tino rangatiratanga.
The poll surveyed the opinions of 543 Māori.
Some kaumatua said the poll results raise the question of whether our tikanga should evolve. Maintaining people’s dignity and mana at the end of their lives lends weight to the argument that it should, while others believe the process of dying has its own tapu, and should be protected.
The Hui’s research poll also showed 48% of people believed whānau should be involved in the decision-making process, while 10% believed whānau should have the right to veto their loved one’s decision to die. But under the End of Life Choice Act, people do not have to discuss their decision with whānau. However, doctors must encourage them to do so.
Euthanasia is also inextricably linked with questions of faith and people must form their own view of how it sits with them and their beliefs.
Whatever your personal opinion tātou ma, make sure you cast your vote on Saturday 17th October.
For further reading, look at the articles below:
From the referendum govt website
Assisted dying's Inequity problem
Four experts - pros and cons
A summary review from the spinoff
Tikanga discussion from Meriana Johnsen
Opinions from Hospice NZ