The New Zealand government recently announced that patients admitted to the hospital for severe Wuhan coronavirus (COVID-19) cases can be euthanized, in accordance with the nation’s End of Life Choice Act (ELOC Act).
The Act, which was only legalized following a 2020 referendum, states that a person who has a terminal illness that is likely to die within six months may die by euthanasia. However, eligibility for both euthanasia and assisted suicide is determined by the attending physician and an independent medical practitioner. In conducting euthanasia, doctors will receive a government fee of $1,000 plus expenses for each person that they euthanize.
The Ministry of Health (MOH) confirmed that patients with COVID could be euthanized by lethal injection under the law. This includes patients who are considered to be dying of the disease or those who are suffering greatly from its effects. “A terminal illness is most often a prolonged disease where treatment is not effective,” the MOH stated.
There is nothing concrete about the phrase “most often,” however, and its inclusion in the context seems to suggest that the MOH considers the definition of terminal illness to be subjective and open to interpretation. Further, the MOG thinks that medical practitioners are the ones who can make the decision whether or not a condition is considered terminal.
Anti-euthanasia group #DefendNZ noted that based on the vague interpretation, it is reasonable to suggest that COVID-19 could be classified as a terminal illness based on the prognosis of the patient and the subjective judgments of the doctors and medical practitioners involved.
“This feels like we’ve been sold one thing, and been delivered another,” #DefendNZ spokesperson Henoch Kloosterboer said. (Related: New Zealand transforms into a tyrannical regime in pursuit of “COVID Zero”.)
The MOH said that eligibility for assisted dying is determined on a case-by-case basis, and therefore the ministry cannot make definitive statements for the patients. In some circumstances, a person with COVID-19 may be eligible.
However, despite the controversy, only 96 of New Zealand’s 16,000 doctors said that they will participate in assisted dying, and all but one of the hospices have indicated that they will not permit such action.
US, UK condemn euthanizing COVID patients
The ELOC Act 2019 is considered to be one of the most extreme euthanasia laws in the world with easily circumventable safeguards. A professor of palliative medicine in the U.K., Baroness Finlay of Llandaff, said that New Zealand’s euthanasia law contradicts the fundamental purpose of medicine to heal the sick. “It is bizarre that a country which has been trying to protect [its] citizens by closing down completely from a virus from which people can fully recover … is now suggesting that these patients should be killed by their doctors. It turns the ethos of medicine on its head,” she said.
She also noted that one cannot predict death 100 percent, so it is necessary to support patients while they are dying, and leave the door open in case they are part of the group that defies all odds and recovers completely.
The American College of Physicians condemned euthanasia in 2017, arguing that assisted suicide is neither a therapy nor a solution to difficult questions raised at the end of a person’s life.
They suggested that the principles of euthanasia underlie the responsibilities of medicine on other issues as well as the physician’s duty to provide care based on clinical judgment. “Control over the manner and timing of a person’s death has not been and should not be a goal of medicine. However, through high-quality care, effective communication, compassionate support, and the right resources, physicians can help patients control many aspects of how they live out life’s last chapter.” the ACP stated.
The government endorsement of assisted suicide for COVID patients remains questionable as the mild omicron variant, which is now the most prevalent case of COVID, does not cause “terminal illness,” nor could it kill anyone “within six months.”