Questions remain about the role of hospice in euthanasia as referendum approaches in New Zealand

Alex Schadenberg, Executive Director, Euthanasia Prevention 

On May 6, I reported that Hospice New Zealand had applied for an urgent court injunction concerning their right to conscientiously object to doing euthanasia. 

The New Zealand parliament had passed a euthanasia bill in November 2019 by a vote of 69 to 51. But in order to get the bill passed in parliament, the government agreed to a referendum on the bill.

“A referendum on whether to put into force the End of Life Choice Act is to be run alongside the general election [September 19], and if the vote was ‘yes’ the act would take effect a year after the result was declared,” according to an article in  Stuff News.

Hospice New Zealand is concerned that the euthanasia referendum will force hospices and medical professionals to participate in euthanasia. 

Justice Jill Mallon

Hospice New Zealand took a case to the High Court in Wellington asking for declarations.  Specifically, Hospice New Zealand, an umbrella organization for all hospice services, asked Justice Jill Mallon the following: 

  • Whether an organisation such as a hospice can conscientiously object to Assisted Dying and operate a “euthanasia-free” service.
  • Whether a district health board or other funding agency can decline to fund or contract with an organisation if it does not agree to provide assisted dying services.
  • Whether the Act’s mandatory obligations on a health practitioner override the ethical, clinical or professional judgments of that practitioner and their obligations under the Code of Health and Disability Consumers’ Rights. 
  • Whether a health practitioner may exercise a right of conscientious objection on the basis that they hold as a core value that they must not act in a way that is contrary to their ethical, clinical or professional judgment and obligations.

Justice Mallon responded by answering only some of the questions.

According to Stuff News, Justice Mallon said that some of the questions could not be answered without particular facts. 

Concerning personal conscience rights, Justice  Mallon said

a doctor or nurse’s deeply-felt belief that it was wrong for them to help for personal moral reasons, internal to them, certainly qualified. 

Conscientious objection might have a broader meaning but that would have to await argument on specific facts.

Concerning the question of institutional conscience rights, Mallon said that hospices could not be forced to provide euthanasia but they would have to “meet their obligations” of care to the patient. Therefore, hospices wouldn’t have to do euthanasia but they may be required to arrange for it to be done.

Judge Mallon said that she couldn’t determine if a hospice would lose funding for refusing to do euthanasia without having particular facts.

Justice Mallon provided Hospice New Zealand with a minimal amount of information. Considering the pressure to participate in euthanasia (MAiD) that Canadian hospices have faced, I would suggest that Hospice New Zealand has good reason to be concerned.

Hospice New Zealand opposes the legalization of euthanasia. Hospice New Zealand needs to work hard to defeat the euthanasia referendum.

Editor’s note. This appeared on Mr. Schadenberg’s blog and is reposted with permission.