The Salvation Army rejects the Prime Minister’s suggestion that euthanasia already happens in New Zealand hospitals but is encouraged by his reported dissatisfaction with aspects of Maryann Street’s private member’s Bill to legalise euthanasia.
The Australian and New Zealand Society of Palliative Medicine has also contradicted the PM’s views, emphasising that euthanasia is illegal and unethical and not practised in New Zealand. Hospice New Zealand’s clinical advisor, Sandy Macleod, said, ‘Euthanasia does not occur in our hospitals, full stop".
Mr Key said in a radio interview this week that if he had terminal cancer, with just a few weeks to live and was in a tremendous amount of pain, he would want doctors to turn off life support. He indicated his wish to legalise that action by legalising euthanasia. But The Salvation Army notes that euthanasia is not the same as switching off life support and allowing someone to die of natural causes. Removing life support is already permitted under law through palliative care and end-of-life management.
The Salvation Army’s Positional Statement on euthanasia says that ‘… To respect a refusal of treatment or to discontinue treatment is not euthanasia. Withholding, withdrawing or declining medical treatment that only prolongs the dying process is not euthanasia. Using drugs to adequately control the pain of a dying person, even if the secondary effect may result in a shortened life is not euthanasia’.
Euthanasia is defined in the Statement as ‘… a deliberate act causing the intentional death of a person in order to relieve that person’s suffering’. Although there is recognition of pain and suffering in some end-of-life situations, The Salvation Army believes this can be managed with the most dignity through effective palliative care.
Like Mr Key, The Salvation Army believes that Ms Street’s Bill has shortcomings. The Salvation Army believes euthanasia and assisted suicide are morally wrong regardless of illness, age or disability, and does not accept the view that euthanasia is ‘death with dignity’. ‘Society’s task is not to eliminate those who suffer, but to access better ways of dealing with their suffering,’ says Major Stevenson, chair of The Salvation Army’s Moral and Social Issues Council.
The Salvation Army believes it is important to communicate by word and deed to the sick, the elderly and the dying that they are worthy of respect, are loved, and will not be abandoned. Full palliative care should be readily available to anyone with a terminal illness.
The decision to access euthanasia as defined in Ms Street’s Bill could be influenced by the convenience of bringing together family members with busy schedules and limited financial means for a final farewell, or by the desire to more quickly wind up an estate. It could also be influenced by views around the expense of continuing medical or palliative treatment. Major Stevenson says, ‘The dying days of an ill person can be extremely hard on family members and friends, but healing, forgiveness and the celebration of life and love occur in such times.’
As a Christian organisation, The Salvation Army believes in the sanctity of human life. It considers each person to be of immense value, and each life a gift from God to be cherished and cared for throughout all life stages.
The Salvation Army welcomes the ongoing debate around the value of human life and the respect and dignity all people deserve.