Careful design of assisted-death proposal could ease misuse fears

EDITORIAL

Former Prime Minister Sir Geoffrey Palmer has come up with a formula that may help New Zealand make progress on one of the most divisive issues it faces — assisted death or, as it is more commonly known, euthanasia.

Palmer put his proposal to Parliament in a lecture in memory of Lecretia Seales who died of brain cancer last year and took an unsuccessful case to the High Court to allow her doctors to help her to die.

As would be expected from a former Law Commission president and politician largely behind the Resource Management Act, Palmer’s proposal is well prepared and eminently reasonable.

It includes seven conditions which must be met before any assisted death could proceed, including: the person must have given their consent in writing before two independent witnesses; two medical practitioners must certify that the person has a grievous and incurable medical condition; and the medical condition must be causing enduring suffering that is intolerable.

Palmer’s master stroke is to bring in the Family Court, a judge of which has to certify that the criteria laid down in the law have been met.

Palmer says an advantage of the proposal is that health professionals will not have to take responsibility for decisions about whether a person should be permitted to die. The proposed law is believed to be unique to New Zealand. Many would agree with Palmer when he says in a matter of this sort it is better to proceed with careful, small steps.

ACT leader David Seymour has an assisted death bill in the private members ballot and has launched a website promoting it.

The subject is always going to be controversial with religious groups strongly opposed but in an increasingly secular society the issue is not going away.

One of the main objections is that the process could be misused and lead to unnecessary terminations. Palmer’s carefully staged conditions could go some way to easing that concern and in the process keep the memory of Lecretia Seales a positive one.

Former Prime Minister Sir Geoffrey Palmer has come up with a formula that may help New Zealand make progress on one of the most divisive issues it faces — assisted death or, as it is more commonly known, euthanasia.

Palmer put his proposal to Parliament in a lecture in memory of Lecretia Seales who died of brain cancer last year and took an unsuccessful case to the High Court to allow her doctors to help her to die.

As would be expected from a former Law Commission president and politician largely behind the Resource Management Act, Palmer’s proposal is well prepared and eminently reasonable.

It includes seven conditions which must be met before any assisted death could proceed, including: the person must have given their consent in writing before two independent witnesses; two medical practitioners must certify that the person has a grievous and incurable medical condition; and the medical condition must be causing enduring suffering that is intolerable.

Palmer’s master stroke is to bring in the Family Court, a judge of which has to certify that the criteria laid down in the law have been met.

Palmer says an advantage of the proposal is that health professionals will not have to take responsibility for decisions about whether a person should be permitted to die. The proposed law is believed to be unique to New Zealand. Many would agree with Palmer when he says in a matter of this sort it is better to proceed with careful, small steps.

ACT leader David Seymour has an assisted death bill in the private members ballot and has launched a website promoting it.

The subject is always going to be controversial with religious groups strongly opposed but in an increasingly secular society the issue is not going away.

One of the main objections is that the process could be misused and lead to unnecessary terminations. Palmer’s carefully staged conditions could go some way to easing that concern and in the process keep the memory of Lecretia Seales a positive one.

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