SAN DIEGO –  New Zealand’s “End of Life Choice” bill continues to face vocal opposition ahead of  a referendum later this month despite polls suggesting that nearly three quarters of voters approve of the bill.

The End of Life Choice bill is New Zealand’s third attempt at passing legislation that will legalize euthanasia. Citizens will have to be 18 years of age or older and have a terminal illness that has them within the last six months of their life to be able to request assisted dying, and even then, they must be approved by their doctor along with a second independent physician.

Association of Consumers and Taxpayers party leader David Seymour, who put the bill forward, believes it is a necessary step forward for New Zealand as a progressive nation.

“Should we be forced to suffer needlessly if it happens to us?” Seymour asked in an August article in the New Zealand news service Newshub. “The options we face in that situation are cruel.”

Supporters argue passing the bill would put an end to the needless suffering of terminally ill citizens, and point to the successes of similar legislation in other countries as evidence of the good that the bill would do. “Annual reports from Oregon, where assisted dying has been legal for 22 years, show that 91 percent of those making a request for early death do so while in palliative care,” President of the End of Life Choice Society Mary Panko said in the same Newshub article .

However, despite the evidence of success in other countries and general approval by New Zealanders, there is still vocal opposition to the bill. Opponents to the bill such as Renée  Joubert, executive officer of the non-profit organization Euthanasia-Free NZ, claim the issue with the End of Life Choice bill is not about whether or not assisted suicide should be legal, but rather about the specifics of the bill itself.

“This act requires no cooling-off period, no independent witnesses to protect against abuse and no mental competency test when receiving euthanasia,” Joubert told Newshub. “An eligible 18-year-old could request a lethal dose and die as early as four days later, without telling their parents.”

Joubert is not the only person to criticize the Palliative care workers such as Catherine D’Souza, who has worked in  the field since 2007, and Jane Rollings, a palliative care veteran, share similar concerns regarding the lack of safeguards.

“We are not voting for ‘is euthanasia right or not,’ yet that is what many people think we are. We are voting to say if we think this act is right and safe,” D’Souza said in an article published by the New Zealand news media website Stuff. “The process has already been written and it is not safe. The act does not go back to Parliament.”

With the election set for Oct. 17, voters are poised to determine if New Zealand will join the multitude of countries that have legalized euthanasia and if the process for assisted dying detailed in the End of Life Choice bill are indeed safe.

Sixty-eight percent of the public support assisted dying for the terminally ill and are right to do so, says University of Otago professor Jessica Young, an expert euthanasia who is involved in the campaign supporting the referendum,.

“They do not fully represent the 45 requirements of the EOLC Act,” Young said regarding the cooling off period and other factors. “The application process itself is a cooling off period, (and) it will likely take weeks to months to complete the process.”

(Written by Noah Sasaki; Sept. 15, 2020)

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