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Doctor: let MPs or mayors end lives

A senior doctor has written to Parliament suggesting that MPs and mayors could carry out euthanasia since doctors are ethically barred.

Dr Ross Boswell, a chemical pathologist and former chair of the New Zealand Medical Association which represents doctors, is among 35,000 submitters to the Justice select committee on David Seymour’s End of Life Choice Bill.

Hundreds of new submissions on the Bill, which would set up a process for a medical practitioner to assist a terminally ill patient to die, have been released this week onto the Select Committee’s website.

Boswell, the Clinical Director at Counties-Manukau Health Laboratory, told the committee that doctors deliberately ending a life is forbidden under the ethical rules of the World Medical Association’s 2015 Declaration on Euthanasia.

“There are very good practical reasons for this ethical proscription; patients must be able to consult their doctors in the clear knowledge and trust that the doctor is working to provide care and support, not sizing them up to administer a lethal dose of medication.”

He said that all medical training is aimed at restoring health, sustaining life while that is appropriate, and easing pain and suffering when it is not.

“Killing has no place in medicine; doctors have no special knowledge and no experience in killing people.”

Even if the law was changed to allow doctors to carry out medically assisted deaths, it would still be unethical.

“The fact that an action is legal does not necessarily make it ethical. As an example, although sexual relationships between consenting adults are perfectly legal, a doctor is forbidden by ethical rules from entering into a such a relationship with her patient.”

But Boswell suggested that if Parliament wanted to create a process for euthanasia then it would need to find a trusted group to carry it out, since doctors are ethically barred. And he names lawyers, MPs, Justices of the Peace and mayors as possible candidates.

He argues; “killing does not require any medical skill; anybody legally empowered to do so could issue a prescription for a lethal dose of drugs, since there is no need to carefully titrate the dosage for fear of causing harm, and no need to take account of complicating conditions such as kidney or liver disease that affect drug metabolism".

“If Parliament believes that the people of New Zealand need and deserve a legal framework that supports euthanasia, then since doctors are ethically barred from implementing it, I suggest that some other trusted group be authorised under this legislation to issue a prescription for a dose of lethal medication.

“I leave the selection of that group to the Parliament; it could perhaps be judges or legal practitioners, perhaps justices of the peace, or perhaps elected officers such as mayors or members of Parliament.”

Earlier articles in this series:

End of Life Choice Bill: what does it say?

Euthanasia views splinter over dementia

Allow people a choice over their manner of dying

Euthanasia bill should not go ahead: law firm

Assisted dying's risk of coercion

What to call ending your life

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