'It's critical that this Bill be amended' – Disability Commissioner concerned about impact of euthanasia bill, that it might capture those not suffering terminal illness

Note: These interviews were conducted in March, just after the closing date of Submissions to the Bill. 

ACT MP David Seymour's End of Life Choice Bill is currently sitting in the Select Committee stage, however Disability Commissioner Paula Tesoriero hopes the bill will undergo changes before it moves to the Second Reading. 

The Bill "gives people with a terminal illness or a grievous and irremediable medical condition the option of requesting assisted dying". 

Disability Rights Commissioner Paula Tesoriero spoke to 1 NEWS specifically about her concerns around the "grievous and irremediable medical condition" requirement of the bill, after she released her Submission of the Disability Rights Commissioner to the Justice Select Committee on the Bill. 

"It's critical that this Bill be amended at Select Committee stage, because right now, the way the Bill is drafted is open to a very wide interpretation of who could be included in certain circumstances. I am very concerned about the impact of that, particularly on disabled New Zealanders."

Ms Tesoriero said she wanted to discuss the issue, making sure there was the creation of "robust debate about what this means for conditions beyond those which are terminal". 

Read David Seymour's response here. 

"I'm concerned about the very broad scope of the Bill, it's possible a range of disabilities and chronic illnesses could, in certain circumstances, be considered to come within the criteria of eligibility," she told 1 NEWS. 

"It could include a range of disabilities and chronic health conditions in certain circumstances because they could be considered a grievous or irremediable medical condition, that's in an advanced state of irreversible decline incapability.

"That's the definition that must be met, and furthermore, that they're experiencing suffering that cannot be relieved in a manner that's considered tolerable, which of course is a subjective test about whether the person considers the suffering to be intolerable or not."

However Mr Seymour said he believed the End of Life Choice Bill would not negatively impact the disability community, saying a person with a disability would be unable to access euthanasia based solely on their disability.

"This is for people who are in an advanced state of decline, whose capability is declining. Not because they have a certain level of capability but because their situation is getting worse and worse."

Ms Tesoriero said the eligibility requirement was "imprecise".

"It is possible on analysis that a range of disabilities and chronic health conditions could fall within the scope of the Bill." 

When asked if she thought the provision for a patient to be in a 'grievous and irremediable medical condition' should be taken out of the Act, Ms Tesoriero said: "In my view, euthanasia should not be considered in any circumstances beyond that of terminal illness, for people who are not terminally ill."

"I'm concerned about the wider context and the message the bill sends about the value of disabled people in society."

Ms Tesoriero said the focus of the End of Life Choice Bill was of a "medical model, where disability is something that is seen to be cured or fixed, compared to the social model which considers how society responds or reacts to disabled people and actually removes the barriers so they can enjoy a good life". 

In the submission, Ms Tesoriero made a range of recommendations, which included:

  • High thresholds, "a minimum age of 18 and likely death within 12 months would be essential".
  • The requirement of systems in place that ensure decisions are "freely made". 
  • Need for a supporting medical review (to confirm the prognosis and to make sure the patient did not have a mental health or treatable physical condition that impacted their decision)
  • A cooling off period.
  • Ongoing monitoring of the euthanasia system, if enacted.
  • Cultural considerations. 
When speaking to ACT leader David Seymour about Ms Tesoriero's concerns, he said safeguards, such as the cooling off period, that was present in previous unsuccessful euthanasia bills, could be a consideration for the Select Committee. 
The ACT Party MP's euthanasia bill has gone further than similar legislation in NZ history, but it is not law yet. Source: Breakfast

Mr Seymour also said it would not send a message to the disability community "if some people choose to end their lives because of their condition, that's somehow a message to people their life is not worth living".