‘End of life choice’ may lead to pressure to choose an ‘early exit’ cautions Salvation Army.
The Salvation Army notes the intention of Maryan Street (MP) to introduce a Private Members “end of life choice” Bill to legalise voluntary euthanasia and/or physician-assisted suicide.
The Salvation Army believes euthanasia and assisted suicide are morally wrong regardless of illness, age or disability, and does not accept the view that euthanasia is “death with dignity”. It says there are two important misconceptions around euthanasia: that death is usually preceded by serious pain, and that modern medicine seeks to prolong the dying process for as long as possible.
“Society’s task is not to eliminate those who suffer, but to find better ways of dealing with their suffering,” says Major Stevenson, chair of The Salvation Army’s Moral and Social Issues Council.
The Salvation Army believes it is important to communicate by word and deed to the sick, the elderly and the dying that they are worthy of respect, they are loved, and that they will not be abandoned. Full palliative care should be available to anyone with a terminal illness.
“A mature society can learn more about itself and the importance of family and friendship by journeying with those who are dying – no matter how difficult this journey may become,” says Major Stevenson. “The dying days of an ill person can be extremely hard on family members and friends, but healing, forgiveness and the celebration of life and love also occur in such times.”
Debate around voluntary euthanasia needed to consider not only the straightforward but also the worst-case scenarios, he said.
“Removing legal liability from health professionals and family, as Ms Street is signalling she would do, could place these individuals under undue pressure to meet the expectations raised by such a change. By offering some the choice to end their life, even with the best of intentions, we may also be removing a choice from others who may consequently feel pressured to choose an ‘early exit’.”
Such a choice could be influenced by the convenience of bringing together family members with busy schedules and limited financial means for a final farewell, or by the desire to more quickly wind up an estate. It could also be influenced by views around the expense of continuing medical or palliative treatment.
As a Christian organisation, The Salvation Army believes in the sanctity of human life. It considers each person to be of immense value, and each life a gift from God to be cherished and cared for throughout all life stages.
Legalising voluntary euthanasia, even in limited form, would see New Zealand take steps towards non-voluntary euthanasia for those of limited mental capacity, says Major Stevenson.
Experience in other jurisdictions highlights the extreme difficulty of drafting law to adequately control the circumstances under which the killing of other human beings is legalised.
The Salvation Army looks forward to examining the proposed legislation carefully and encourages all New Zealanders to do the same.