'In this bill there are no consequences' - Sir Bill English speaks out against proposed euthanasia legislation, supporter Matt Vickers wants restrictions

Anna Whyte
Source: 1News

Submissions were heard today from Sir Bill English, Dr Mary English and advocate Matt Vickers, on the opposing views of the proposed euthanasia legalisation.

Sir Bill spoke on his opposition to the bill, saying legalising euthanasia could allow, in some circumstances, people to "be able to kill and be exempt from the law". 

Matt Vickers described how for a person who was experiencing "extreme pain, despite their doctor's best efforts, it might offer a true respite". 

ACT leader David Seymour's End of Life Choice Bill is currently sitting in the Select Committee stage, after passing its first reading last year. 

The Bill "gives people with a terminal illness or a grievous and irremediable medical condition the option of requesting assisted dying". 

Sir Bill English

Sir Bill said the test for consent "was far too low", and that "safeguards mean nothing if there are no consequences for breaking them". 

"In this bill there are no consequences. That is the track record of the jurisdictions around the world."

"In effect the law asks us to look the other way. This bill is about all of us, not just those who choose euthanasia," he told the Justice Select Committee. 

He said the criteria as it stands, "are broad and subjective".

"That creates uncertainly, and it also means large groups of our society... will be defined by the parliament as people who are considered eligible to choose to shorten their life."

He said the conscientious objection provisions were "repugnant and must be changed". 

"They oblige a doctor who has requested to put a person on the euthanasia conveyor belt, when their conscience says they're absolutely opposed to it. 

Sir Bill also spoke about youth suicide and the "hypocrisy" the bill could create. 

"I've seen youth suicide upfront. Young people have a nose for adult hypocrisy. How can we say to them, it's a bad thing for a young person to think about taking their life, but a great, progressive thing for a sick old person to think about taking their lives?"

Dr Mary English

Dr English presented to the Justice Select Committee alongside husband Sir Bill. She said she sees "at first hand, my patient's concern about being a burden".

"It is my strong opinion, that legally sanctioning euthanasia will tip the balance of presumption by the patient that we're here to assist and help..."

Matt Vickers

Euthanasia advocate Matt Vickers, the husband of the late Lecretia Seales, then presented to the Select Committee about why he supported the bill. 

"There is some suffering beyond the reach of medicine.

"Imagine wanting that choice so much that you're willing, in the grip of terminal decline to go public and sue the New Zealand Government to get it. My late wife Lecretia Seales was willing to go to those lengths. 

Lecretia Seales campaigned for voluntary euthanasia to be made legal. In the week before she died of brain cancer in June 2015, a High Court judgment ruled against Ms Seales allowing a doctor to euthanise her without fear of prosecution.

"She believed not having that choice denied her humanity and not having that choice was fundamentally unjust," Mr Vickers said. 

Mr Vickers said there was "no evidence" in comparable countries of situations of elder abuse, opportunistic relatives' coercion or devaluing the lives of people with disabilities caused by legalising euthanasia. 

He said the bill also "does not provide a doctor with the power to incite or counsel someone to suicide". 

"We can support the End of Life Choice Bill and be tougher on elder abuse and discrimination and do more to prevent suicide."

Mr Vickers recommended the bill be restricted to people with terminal illnesses who were expected to live less than six months, that the legislation made clear physical disability and mental illness "alone is not sufficient criteria for accessing assisted dying" and that doctors who raises the notion of euthanasia with patients "un-prompted" be subject to sanctions. 

"This bill is not forcing anyone to do anything they don't want to do. This bill opens up a carefully constrained choice."