End of Life Choice placing people with disabilities at risk

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Media release

7 March 2018

IHC shares the concerns of the Disability Rights Commissioner regarding The End of Life Choice Bill, which unfortunately links assisted dying, quality of life and disability.

The bill’s stated purpose to give ‘people with terminal illness or a grievous and irremediable medical condition’ the option of requesting assisted dying has far wider implications than intended for people with disabilities, placing them at undue risk unless changes to the bill are made.

There is a strong social narrative in New Zealand that intellectual disability is a burden and a cause of struggle,” says IHC Director of Advocacy Trish Grant. “In light of this, the bill’s current wording around ‘grievous and irremediable medical conditions’ is ambiguous and implies that the burden of any kind of medical condition could be justification for ending someone’s life.

“Further, the bill assumes all people in New Zealand have access to the same level of care and support to enable them to have the best quality of life and therefore able to make an informed choice about their right to die,” says Trish.

“But we know people with disabilities do not receive the same level of care and support.”

People with disabilities have some of the worst health outcomes in New Zealand, with higher rates of potentially preventable deaths, mental health conditions, and early onset age related health issues. Men and women with intellectual disability live, respectively, 18 and 23 years fewer than the general population.

“We need to ensure that people with disabilities are supported throughout their lives with services and support, be it disability supports, or appropriate palliative care, that mean they have the best quality of life available to them, before any suggestion is made as to whether the burden of their medical condition is too great.”

“Without ensuring all people have access to the highest quality of life possible, we are leaving many vulnerable people open to questioning the value of their life and at risk of being coerced into making an uninformed choice as to whether assisted dying is appropriate.

“The bill needs to provide appropriate safeguards to protect the most vulnerable members of our communities. The unintended consequences of the bill need to be acknowledged and remedied before any comprehensive decision on the bill’s merits can be made,” says Trish.

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