The Seymour Bill
David Seymour’s End of Life Choice Bill
It passed its First Reading vote on 13 December.
Assisted suicide or voluntary euthanasia for almost any New Zealander over 18
The Seymour bill uses vague wording that is open to wide interpretation and application.
It proposes that any New Zealand citizen or permanent resident 18 years or older would be eligible for ‘assisted dying’ if the person:
- suffers from a terminal illness or other medical condition that is likely to end his or her life within 6 months; or
- a grievous and irremediable medical condition; and
- is in an advanced state of irreversible decline in capability;
- experiences unbearable suffering that cannot be relieved in a manner that he or she considers tolerable; and
- has the ability to understand the nature of assisted dying; and the consequences for him or her of assisted dying.
Clearly voluntary euthanasia advocates do NOT want legislation only for the terminally ill, but also for people with ‘irreversible’ or ‘irremediable’ physical and psychological conditions. The David Seymour End of Life Choice Bill is not the first one with such wide eligibility criteria. Maryan Street’s End of Life Choice Bill 2012 as well as the End of Life Options Bill (proposed by the Voluntary Euthanasia Society in 2015), would effectively cause virtually any New Zealander 18 years or older to be eligible.
Some issues with the Seymour bill
David Seymour’s End of Life Choice Bill effectively proposes assisted suicide and voluntary euthanasia on demand for anyone 18 years or older.
Here are some reasons why we’ve come to this conclusion:
- There is no clear definition of ‘terminal illness’. It can be interpreted to include any condition that is life-shortening or life-threatening. There is no bright line between terminal conditions and chronic conditions. Some chronic conditions can become life-threatening in a matter of minutes, for example diabetes, asthma, severe allergies and high blood pressure. There is also no bright line between terminal illness and disabilities, because many disabilities are life-limiting and involve complications that can become life-threatening.
- Depression can also be regarded as a terminal condition, because it could lead to death (suicide) or to losing the will to live and fight a disease. Very severe depression, such as catatonic depression, can have life-threatening complications.
- It’s impossible for doctors to accurately predict how long a person is expected to live, especially as long as six months out. There have been cases of people who were expected to die within hours or days, but they recovered and lived for months or years. Diagnosis can also be wrong, despite a doctor’s best intentions. Diagnosis and prognosis are not based on certainty, but on probability (the likelihood based on other cases). There is no guarantee that an individual’s disease will progress the same way as others’ have.
- The phrase ‘irremediable medical condition’ is vague enough to include any condition that is not cured within an expected time frame. ‘Irremediable conditions’ could include disabilities; chronic conditions such as arthritis, asthma, gluten intolerance or chronic pain; mental illness such as anxiety or depression; ageing-related conditions such as the deterioration of eyesight, mobility or skin elasticity; scarring; and even skin pigmentation such as age spots or birth marks… Any condition can become ‘irremediable’ if a person exercises their right to refuse further treatment.
- Words such as ‘grievous’, ‘unbearable suffering’ and ‘intolerable’ are entirely subjective (up to the individual to determine). If a patient would use any of these words to describe their condition, the doctor would not be able to argue.
- ‘An advanced state of irreversible decline in capability’ is just a wordy way of saying ‘disability’ or ‘ageing’. The Bill doesn’t explain what is meant by ‘capability’. Could a person qualify who has become less able to run, walk, read, socialise, or enjoy life?
- The Seymour End of Life Choice Bill doesn’t mention depression. Even if it did specifically exclude depression, depressed people could still access death instead of treatment under such legislation. Depression can be hidden, even from doctors. Depression can be misdiagnosed or dismissed as ‘understandable depression’. Even subclinical depression (not severe enough to be diagnosed) could still have an effect on people’s decision making capabilities and will to live. See Depression and Terminal Illness. Underlying undiagnosed or undertreated depression could be the reason a person finds their physical condition unbearable.