The euthanasia debate has been ignited following Lecretia Seales’ public plight to clarify the state of New Zealand’s law on euthanasia. In June of 2015, the High Court ruled that medical assistance to help Ms Seales die at a time of her own choosing would be against the current law, and that the doctor(s) concerned would be committing culpable homicide pursuant to section 160(2)(a) and (3) pf the Crimes Act 1961, and/or aiding and abetting suicide pursuant to section 179(b). The Court made it clear that it is for Parliament to clarify or change the law. Following a petition from the Voluntary Euthanasia Society to Parliament, the Health Select Committee will be holding an inquiry into voluntary euthanasia.
This paper offers a broad picture of the law as it stands and as it may develop in the future, from the perspective of several common law jurisdictions. It discusses the current legislation and the common law as it has evolved over several decades, outlines possible future developments, and considers policy arguments on either side of the discussion.
Due to the vast range of issues presented by the issue of euthanasia, this paper focuses on the past, present, and proposed legal developments in physician-assisted active euthanasia. Passive euthanasia is a voluntary choice to end life through ceasing life-prolonging medical treatment completely. This concept is widely recognised and accepted across most jurisdictions whereas active euthanasia, the direct act of inducing death, is more controversial. This paper will consider only voluntary euthanasia, that is, where a person is wholly competent and capable of consenting to the act. This paper also discusses the apparent leniency towards friends or family members who have helped to end a life by request. However, it will centre on the concept of physician-assisted death as a means to confine the proposed legislative changes.
Report Compiled By: Harriet Birch, Kelly Burrowes, Emily Harris, Gordon Kang, Luke Kibblewhite, Linda Lim, Bronwen Norrie, Francy Sulikosky, Justys Vickers