Bioethics Blogs

Why New Zealand Should Permit Aid in Dying

Having read with interest Josephine Johnston’s essay on the aid-in-dying case before a court in New Zealand, I’d like to elaborate on some salient points. I have been actively involved with Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act for 14 years, and there are three misconceptions that warrant clarification and education.

First of all, the New Zealand case pivots around the interpretation of “aiding or abetting suicide.” Lecretia Seales has a terminal illness and is appealing to the High Court at Wellington to differentiate aiding or abetting suicide from aid in dying. If the Crimes Act, Section 179, would be interpreted to separate the concepts of suicide and aid-in-dying, her doctor could be protected from prosecution should she assist Seales by prescribing a medication to enable her to end her life peacefully.

With death being imminent, Seales would like to be empowered with the personal freedom to define how and when dying will occur. Seales is fighting for autonomy to have the liberty to end protracted suffering for herself and all New Zealanders. It is an aberration of the concept of aid-in-dying to compare it to suicide. Having guided innumerable terminally ill people through aid-in-dying, I have experience regarding how these differ.

For people who avail themselves of aid-in-dying, death due to their illness is inevitable. When a person qualifies for aid-in-dying under Oregon’s Death with Dignity law, two physicians must agree that this person’s life will end within six months. Death is not a choice. These people have suffered through excruciating pain, failed treatment, and humiliation up to this point.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.