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Would the elderly be vulnerable if Medically Assisted Dying was legalised?

Some opponents of Medically Assisted Dying are concerned that the elderly would be very vulnerable if legalisation occurred. They point to the elder abuse that is not that uncommon in our NZ population. End-of-Life Choice says that there is no evidence for elder abuse associated with Medically Assisted Dying, and it is virtually impossible. 

1. Elder abuse is clandestine at the moment and is usually only dealt with when it emerges before professional health personnel and bodies such as Age Concern. 

2. The safeguards intended under the David Seymour EOLC Bill include:

a) they have to meet the criteria of a terminal disease and/or an irreversible condition with unbearable suffering

b) they have to be mentally competent 

c) they have to be in an advanced stage of incapacity

d) after preliminary discussions, they have to ask for assistance to die in writing

e) two doctors are involved in looking at the criteria and looking for coercion etc 

f) each decision is reviewed by an expert committee 

g) the process is reviewed by parliament annually 

These criteria and the formal, above the radar, process makes it virtually impossible for family and others to use Medically Assisted Dying as part of an abusive pattern. The Supreme Court of Canada (Feb 2015) agrees with this assertion and says that medical practitioners are capable of discerning abuse and coercion. 

3. The elderly may sometimes feel a burden to others or feel that they are lonely or have had enough of life. This is a legitimate feeling and is common. However Medically Assisted Dying is not available for them unless they meet the strict criteria as above. Just because they feel that way does not mean they qualify for assistance to die. 

4. The experience in legalised jurisdictions has not shown any elder abuse associated with Medically Assisted Dying – in fact studies done on various vulnerable groups has confirmed lack of abuse. The onus is on bodies such as Care Alliance and other such bodies to show evidence for their claims. 

Prepared by Dr Jack Havill, Past President of End-of-Life Choice

Revised Jan 2019

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