Disability Rights Commissioner Paula Tesoriero says the End of Life Choice Bill undermines years of work to change perceptions of disabled people in New Zealand and poses significant risks to them.
Ms Tesoriero has outlined her concerns regarding the End of Life Choice Bill in a submission to the Justice Select Committee.
“Much of the discussion so far has centred around the Bill allowing people with a terminal illness to end their life on their own terms. However, this Bill has wider implications for the disability community - it is not just limited to terminal illness,” Ms Tesoriero says.
“We must first work towards ensuring, to the greatest extent possible, that all people have the same freedom of choice in life before we consider legislating choice in death.
“It’s my role to reflect the concerns of the disability community and what I am hearing is that there are significant concerns about this Bill, particularly the inclusion of grievous and irremediable (but non-terminal) medical conditions. These concerns are important and relevant and need to be part of the conversation around this legislation.
“The bill does not reflect the reality for many disabled New Zealanders and undermines many years of hard work by disability advocates to change the way that society thinks about disability.
“Before we start talking about how disabled people can end their lives, we should be talking about how they can be supported to live their lives to their fullest potential,” says Ms Tesoriero.
Key recommendations made by the Disability Rights Commissioner in her submission are that:
The Bill should not be passed into law in its current form.
The process and proposed safeguards outlined in the Bill are inadequate. In particular:
the Bill does not protect the interests of disabled and vulnerable members of the community
It contains insufficient provisions and protections around matters such as: the provision of appropriate information; informed consent; assessing capacity; determining if undue influence or coercion exist. There is also no “cooling off” period and the oversight/approval mechanisms are inadequate.
Legislative change in relation to end of life choice cannot be considered in isolation from the standard and current services and resources available to those who experience serious but non-terminal conditions or palliative care services.
“In its current form, the Bill undermines the position of disabled and vulnerable members of our community. It devalues their lives and poses significant risks to them, as individuals and as a group,” Ms Tesoriero says.
“This bill falls far short of the mark. If a bill is to be passed in some form, it is vital that the concerns I have outlined are addressed in full consultation with the disability community.”