Reports indicate that the New Zealand government has decided that patients hospitalized for COVID-19 infection can be killed by doctors by euthanasia. Last month, an anti-euthanasia advocacy group asked the New Zealand Ministry of Health (MOH) about COVID applications of the country’s End of Life Choice (EOLC) Act.
The MOH was asked whether a hospitalized COVID-19 patient is eligible for assisted suicide or subject to euthanasia under the EOLC Act if they were deemed to have less than six months to live. The law says that a person with a terminal illness “likely to end life within six months” may be killed by euthanasia. The factual determination regarding disease is to be made by a patient’s attending medical practitioner and an independent medical practitioner.
Under the EOLC Act, doctors are entitled to a fee of $1,000 plus expenses paid by the government for each patient they euthanize.
The MOH confirmed that qualifying COVID patients are subject to death by lethal injection in response to the inquiry. Patients can qualify because of COVID or “extreme suffering” because of the effects of the disease. A “terminal illness” is deemed to mean often a prolonged illness for which treatment is not practical.
There is no concrete meaning of the phrase “most often” as used by the MOH, implying that the government intends for the definition to be subjective and open to the personal discretion of practitioners, as is the meaning of the word “terminal” under the law.
Therefore, commentators in New Zealand believe that COVID-19 could easily be classified under the law as a “terminal illness,” depending on the personal findings. The MOH confirmed that the determination of eligibility for euthanasia under the EOLC Act is made on a case-by-case basis. As a result, the government refused to provide any definitive statement about who is, in fact, subject to being euthanized.
A UK professor of palliative medicine said that the New Zealand law “turns the ethos of medicine on its head.” Baroness Finlay of Llandaff added that doctors could not predict death at “100 percent,” and there is no reason not to leave the door open to the possibility of recovery. Reports indicate that only 96 of the approximately 16,000 physicians in New Zealand have said they will perform assisted deaths or euthanizations.