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Euthanasia is legal issue, not a medical one

Aug 21st, 2012 | By | Category: Latest News, News

NEW Zealand law already allows doctors to let people die passively and euthanasia should never be a part of good medical practice.

That’s the view of medical law and ethics associate professor Colin Gavaghan (above right), who says the Bill of Rights Act gives everyone the right to refuse to undergo any medical treatment.

“The line is already a bit crooked,” he told an audience of 300 who packed out Wellington’s Paramount Cinema to hear views on Labour MP Maryan Street’s End Of Life Choices Bill last Thursday.

Dr Gavagahan said the issue with the bill is not about disrespecting how people decide to end their lives but the way in which that decision can be expressed.

Ms Street said her bill proposes the option of [people] getting assistance from a doctor by way of medication to end their life at the time and in the way of their choosing.

Better access to palliative and hospice care is also included in the bill, she said.

Medical experts said legalising euthanasia should come under the Ministry of Justice, not the Ministry of Health.

Ilora Finlay (right), a doctor and professor of palliative medicine, said decisions can be influenced by mental health and family dynamics.

“A doctor’s duty is to relieve the suffering, ” she said. “When you look at people whose lives are unbearable, that’s usually around their existence not medicine.”

Judging by her experience working with people with terminal illnesses, a person’s wish to die fluctuates and the bill does not safeguard against that.

The bill also would not protect people from subtle coercion from family members and changes the nature of the doctor-patient relationship, said Dr Finlay.

“Take it out of health care, put it in justice and do not involve healthcare professionals,” she said.

In a recent interview with Kim Hill on Radio New Zealand, Dr Finlay suggested a separate body be responsible for euthanasia, because doctors are the people most opposed to it.

Grant Gillett, a neurosurgeon and professor of medical ethics, said the value left in the life of a terminally ill person may be difficult to see, but it is there.

Ms Street said in her initial stages of writing the bill, she wondered why some elderly people thought their lives were not valuable, and that further issues about elderly arose from this topic.

The bill would ultimately help people with degenerative diseases who cannot die by themselves, choose to die, and protect those who assist them with that decision.

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