Recently, the New Zealand government announced that patients admitted to hospital for severe cases of Covid-19 can be euthanised, following the nation’s End of Life Choice Act (ELOC Act).
The act, which was only made legal following a 2020 referendum, states that an individual 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 doctor and an independent medical practitioner. Doctors conducting euthanasia will receive a government fee of $1,000 (£740) plus expenses for each person that they euthanise.
The Ministry of Health (MOH) announced that patients with Covid-19 could be euthanised 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 said.
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It seems that the context of suffering and a terminal illness is open to interpretation in the eyes of the MOH and New Zealand government. It also appears as though that the MOH are happy for medical practitioners to make the ultimate decision as to whether a condition is considered terminal or not.
The vague interpretation was noticed by anti-euthanasia group #DefendNZ, and they argue that Covid-19 could be classified as a terminal illness based on the prognosis of the patient and the subjective judgements of the doctors and medical practitioners involved.
#DefendNZ spokesperson, Henoch Kloosterboer, said: “This feels like we’ve been sold one thing, and been delivered another.”
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. They said: “In some circumstances, a person with COVID-19 may be eligible for assisted dying.”
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.