New Zealand legalizes euthanasia: Should the rest of the world follow?

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Euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide are often regarded as taboo topics, considering most countries in Asia, Africa and South America have laws that render it illegal.

“Euthanasia is the act of deliberately ending a life to relieve suffering, while assisted suicide is the act of deliberately assisting another person in killing themselves. In contrast to euthanasia and assisted suicide, assisted dying would apply to terminally ill people only,” according to BBC. Assisted suicide is a more accepted option, being available in Switzerland and 9 US states. There is another form of euthanasia, called passive euthanasia which involves withdrawing or withholding treatment. This option is available in a few countries around the world, including the UK, France, Spain, Italy, India and Argentina.

A week ago, New Zealand has followed in the footsteps of the Netherlands, Belgium, Colombia, Luxembourg, Western Australia and Canada to put to a vote legalizing human euthanasia. “Preliminary results showed 65.2% of voters supported the End of Life Choice Act coming into force as a new law. The law will allow terminally ill people with less than six months to live the opportunity to choose assisted dying if approved by two doctors,” according to an article by BBC. There are, of course, many criteria to be met before a doctor can sign off on this procedure, including: “suffering from a terminal illness that’s likely to end their life within six months, showing a significant decline in physical capability, being able to make an informed decision about assisted dying”, says the same article. “Thousands of New Zealanders who might have suffered excruciating deaths will have choice, dignity, control and autonomy over their own bodies, protected by the rule of law,” said lawmaker David Seymour of the libertarian ACT Party.

Elderly New Zealanders calling for the legalization of euthanasia in a public petition. (Image: Stuff)

Although euthanasia is mainly requested in cases of physical illness; Belgium, The Netherlands and Canada permit patients to request it on the basis of psychiatric disorders. This was the case for Cornelia Geerts, a woman from Belgium who struggled with mental illness for years before she asked her psychiatrist to help her end her life. “About a year later, on October 7, 2014, her doctor administered a lethal dose of drugs. It was all legal procedure in Belgium, which has among the world’s most permissive euthanasia laws […] the idea is that those with a psychiatric illness should be afforded the same rights as those suffering from a physical one,” says an article from Stat News. There have been many others in Cornelia’s shoes who have chosen to end their lives through euthanasia with their doctor’s support after careful consideration. Many people around the world suffer from severe and untreatable psychiatric illnesses. Still, they don’t have the support in their own countries to take the steps to end their suffering and end up having to bear through months or even years of dreadful pain.

On the 28th of November 2000, the Netherlands became the first country to decriminalize human euthanasia and protect doctors from prosecution if they choose to perform it under strict guidelines. This decision faced backlash from people who believed it would give doctors free rein to kill their patients and that more and more individuals would want to resort to it. These complaints are brought back to the surface now that New Zealand has adopted its new law.”About 3000 cases of voluntary euthanasia are carried out each year in the Netherlands. Mr Rob Jonquierre, managing director of the Dutch Voluntary Euthanasia Society, believes that the new legislation will not lead to a massive increase in the number of cases,” reveals a Bulletin of the World Health Organization from 2001.

There have been numerous protests every time a country chooses to take the step to legalize euthanasia. In Canada, in 2016, “hundreds of people gathered on Parliament Hill to protest against euthanasia June 1, the day after Parliament passed Bill C-14 to legalize the practice and sent it on to the Senate for royal assent,” according to The Catholic Register. These religious concerns are based on the belief that the right to decide when a person dies belongs to God. When the bill in New Zealand was voted on last year, the country carried out protests in support of helping people to live, not to die.

The main concern of the public is the fact that euthanasia is not being regulated well enough, but authorities have made sure that is not the case. Many activists around the world advocate for the human right to die and the moral right to die with dignity. It is not a surprise that many people in conditions of hardship want to choose when their death occurs and enjoy the last moments of their lives. After all, having rules and restrictions in mind, is it so wrong to let people die on their own terms?

Featured Image via Stuff