The Health Committee of the New Zealand Parliament has presented the report of its inquiry into the issues involved in people ending their own lives. The inquiry was prompted by a Petition proposing that the law should be changed to legalise 'medically-assisted dying' for people who are terminally-ill or otherwise in an irreversible medical state.
The committee has adopted an admirably-balanced approach to consideration of these issues. Its report states that the committee received over 21,000 submissions. Though the majority of these did not support a change in the law, the report rehearses the arguments, under different headings, both for and against legalisation. It concludes:
"This issue is clearly very complicated, very divisive and extremely contentious. We therefore encourage everyone with an interest in the subject to read the report in full and to draw their own conclusions based on the evidence we have presented".
The committee's report is in striking contrast to a report from just across the Tasman Sea. In June 2016 a parliamentary committee in the Australian State of Victoria published its report on end-of-life choices, including the question of whether 'assisted dying' should be legalised in that State. The relevant chapters of this latter report make no effort to balance the arguments for and against changing the law. They comprise a litany of statements, supported by quotations from supporters (but not opponents) of legal change, as to perceived deficiencies in existing law. With the best will in the world, it is difficult to avoid the feeling that the Victoria committee's investigation of this part of its remit was wholly one-sided and lacking in objectivity.
The New Zealand Parliament's Health Committee is to be congratulated for its fair-minded approach to what is, as its report rightly observes, a complex and controversial subject. Though Living and Dying Well takes the view that the evidence does not support a change in laws prohibiting assisted suicide or administered euthanasia, we recognise that there are respectable arguments to be heard on both sides of this difficult debate, that those arguments need to be presented fairly and that parliamentarians and the public must balance the risks and benefits of legal change and reach their own conclusions based on careful analysis of the evidence. We hope and trust that the Health Committee's report will help the New Zealand Parliament to do that.