Open Statement on the End of Life Choice Bill

If you are a New Zealand lawyer* or legal academic you are invited to sign this statement here

Download a PDF version of our Open Statement here

We are lawyers and legal academics from across New Zealand, with experience in diverse fields of law, representing a variety of ideological and political views, and unanimous in our concern over the care of New Zealand’s vulnerable communities and the compassionate treatment of its sick, disabled and terminally ill.

We make this public statement to express our opposition to the End of Life Choice Bill (“the Bill”) and its proposed introduction of euthanasia and assisted suicide into New Zealand law, and to warn both Parliamentarians and New Zealanders against the dangers of voting the Bill into legislation.

If it is passed into law, the Bill will legalise what it terms “assisted dying”. Under the Bill’s provisions this will involve medical professionals, overseen by the Ministry of Health, ending the lives of their patients through lethal injection upon request (known as euthanasia), or assisting them in their suicide through the ingestion or intravenous delivery of lethal medication. Under current New Zealand law, as the case of Seales v Attorney General confirmed, “assisted dying” constitutes the offences of culpable homicide and aiding and abetting suicide under sections 160(2)(a) and (3) and 179 of the Crimes Act 1961. In order to further the interests of purportedly only a "small" number of New Zealanders,1 the Bill proposes to override these fundamental provisions in New Zealand criminal law by effectively permitting homicide and assisted suicide in some medical cases. In addition to impacting many other laws, this development would represent a profound shift in New Zealand law, the practice of medicine, and the field of medical ethics. It will also profoundly impact New Zealand society.

We acknowledge that this issue is fraught with complexity, and recognise the difficult choices that many of us in New Zealand must make when we are near the end of our lives. We also empathise with those New Zealanders who live with disabilities, chronic illnesses or mental illnesses; some of our number are amongst them.

We believe that the mark of our civilised society is measured by the manner in which we treat and protect our weakest and most vulnerable members. While the Bill purports to be targeted to a "small but significant group of competent adults who are not vulnerable and who wish to die without unbearable suffering and pain", we consider that it will in fact place many vulnerable members of our community (whether terminally or chronically ill, disabled or mentally ill) at greater risk of premature death by homicide or suicide as a result of neglect, coercion and other forms of abuse, as well as misdiagnosis or prognostic error and uncertainty. Its definition of a "person who is eligible for assisted dying" is so broad in its coverage of a range of conditions and illnesses that it could extend to New Zealanders with disabilities, relatively common chronic health conditions, and in some cases even mental health or psychological disorders such as depression, anorexia or bi-polar disorder. We concur with the New Zealand Disability Rights Commissioner’s assessment that the Bill undermines the position of disabled and vulnerable New Zealanders and poses significant risks to them, both as individuals and as a group. We are particularly concerned at its potential impact on Māori, who are over-represented in our suicide rates each year, in terminal, mental and chronic health illnesses, and in disabilities. We note that according to the Waitangi Tribunal, “many of these illnesses and problems are practically at epidemic levels"2 and that in December 2018 the Tribunal commenced an investigation into more than 200 claims that the Crown is operating a “sick, racist system that fails Māori”, leading to Māori dying earlier and suffering the worst health outcomes.

The Bill lacks important safeguards, and the purported safeguards that it does propose (such as its safeguard against coercion) are completely inadequate in protecting New Zealand’s vulnerable communities. We agree with the Disability Rights Commissioner that its safeguards are deficient, both procedurally and substantively, for both terminal and non-terminal conditions.

As lawyers working across a range of fields, we are keenly aware of the diversity of vulnerabilities which many New Zealanders experience, not only within their families and communities but also across the health system (including, for example, inequitable regional variances in palliative care resources and a lack of government funding for some life-prolonging medications). Given these very serious problems, and having considered the impact of euthanasia and assisted suicide laws on vulnerable populations in other countries, we have very serious misgivings over whether a safe regime for euthanasia and assisted suicide can be implemented in New Zealand. The risk of abuses resulting from the legalisation of euthanasia and assisted suicide through this Bill is very high. We are supported in this view by a reputable body of experienced opinion that has been informed by the harms which have resulted in the few overseas jurisdictions that have legalised these practices.3

We believe the implementation of the Bill could create harmful social pathologies, as well as result in the dangerously contradictory message being promoted within New Zealand society that suicide can actually be a good and dignified act. We note in this regard that the Bill will vest the Ministry of Health, the government department presently responsible for suicide prevention in New Zealand, with responsibility for overseeing the practice of helping some New Zealanders to commit suicide at the same time as advising others not to. Both of these groups will receive the message that our society and state endorse the ending of a person’s life as an appropriate response to suffering, the only difference being that those who are “ineligible” for assistance in their suicide will be left on their own to achieve it. This message will confuse New Zealand’s attempts to eliminate suicide.

We have many other concerns over the Bill, including its lack of any effective or meaningful oversight and the false or questionable assertions of fact in its Explanatory Note. One final, significant, concern of note is that it compels all New Zealand doctors to facilitate euthanasia and assisted suicide in violation of the rights of many doctors to freedom of conscience in section 13 of the Bill of Rights Act, and makes those conscientious objecting doctors who refuse to refer a patient to another doctor for help in ending their lives liable to prosecution, imprisonment or a substantial fine. We consider that to be an unacceptable intrusion into the personally-held beliefs which many of our doctors have regarding their duty to their patients: a duty to care for them, rather than to be complicit in killing them.

After 16 months of investigation and after reviewing some 39,000 submissions, the Justice Select Committee has now confirmed in its Report to Parliament that it has not even been able to agree that the Bill be passed and that it is unworkable in its present state.4 It appears the Committee has been left in considerable disarray over how to repair it. In the result, our Parliament has now been handed an extremely dangerous Bill with no real insight into how it might be remedied, or even if it can be remedied. Indeed, the Committee’s Report suggests very strongly that the Bill, to borrow from its own terminology, is irremediable.

As lawyers we believe the End of Life Choice Bill is not fit for purpose and is not salvageable. For many vulnerable New Zealanders this issue is literally a matter of their life and death. When it comes to safeguarding their wellbeing and safety, we consider the risks associated with the Bill to be unacceptably high.


1. Explanatory Note to End of Life Choice Bill

2. Te Manutukutuku (Waitangi Tribunal), Issue 68, June 2015.

3. As discussed by the UK Supreme Court in Nicklinson v Minister of Justice [2014] UKSC 38 at [225] – [229] and also discussed in R (Conway) v Secretary of State for Justice [2017] EWHC 2447, [2018] 2 All ER 250 at [100]–[104], a decision that was recently upheld by both the UK Court of Appeal (27 June 2018) and the UK Supreme Court (27 November 2018).

4. Justice Select Committee Report to Parliament on End of Life Choice Bill, p 1, 7.

Signatories to Open Statement

GrantIllingworth QCLitigation
IanMillard QCCivil litigation, Trust law, Maori issues
JudithAblett-Kerr ONZM QCLitigation
MatthewCasey QCLitigation, environmental, public law, property litigation, professional discilplnary
PeterMcKenzie CNZM QCCompany and securities law, insolvency, judicial review and administrative appeals
VictoriaCasey QCPublic law, human rights
Dr. DonaldMathieson OMNZ, QCEvidence and Administrative Law (Retired)
CharlesRickett (Professor)Private and Commercial Law
DavidMcLauchlan (Professor)Private Law
JessicaPalmer (Professor)Trusts, contracts and commercial law
PaulRishworth (Professor)Public Law
PeterSkegg (Professor)Criminal Law, Medical Law
RexTauati Ahdar (Professor)Academia (Competition Law; Law and Religion)
RonPaterson (Professor)Health and disability law
WarrenBrookbanks (Professor)Criminal law, mental health law, therapeutic jurisprudence
GrantMorrisAssociate Professor in Law, Dispute Resolution, Legal History
MāmariStephensAssociate Professor in Law, Maori constitutionalism, law and language Welfare law
MarcusRobertsSenior Lecturer in Law, Contract/Torts
NicholasDrakeSenior Lecturer in Law, Commercial Law
Dr Huhana (Susan)Hickey MNZMHuman rights and disability
AaronMilnesProperty / Agri-business
AedeenBoadita-CormicanPublic Law, Litigation, contracts and commercial
AlexanderShinkarenkoCivil, Commercial, Criminal, Immigration, Personal and Company Insolvency, Debt Enforcement, Trusts and Estate
AndrewClementsCorporate and Private Wealth Succession
AnnaCaseyRegulatory Compliance
AnthonyRogersCriminal law and mental health law
AshleySharpACC / Medical; Employment, Civil Litigation
AudreyChong-SchmidtGeneral Practice
BenMartellCommercial, Human Rights
BernieAllenAsset Planning,Trusts
BlairFranklinCommercial and property
BradleyBottingCommercial Law
BrettJonesFamily Law
BruceDavidsonGeneral, Commercial, Trusts, Estates, Family
BryceWilliamsElder and succession law/private client
CalebStandenProperty, commercial, trusts
CatherineMcCallumResource management
CatherineFlemingPublic law
CatherineQuinFamily, elder law, estates
CedricCarrancejaEnvironmental, Resource Management and Local Government
ChaoweiFanCommercial Litigation
CharlotteGriffinPublic Law and Civil Litigation
ChrisBurkeProperty (including elder law)
ChrisCantillonProperty
ChristieKillipPrivacy
ChristineMarchTax
ChristopherBarryCommercial and Civil Litigation
ChristopherO'BrienProperty
ConradBaceInformation Law
CraigBoyesFamily
DanielKleinsmanMaori Law and Public Law
DanielKerrCivil Litigation
DanielClausenTaxation and Property
DannielleBellCivil Litigation
DaveAnanthTaxation
DavidMurphyProperty, commercial, trusts, elder law
DavidSimpkinProperty, commercial, estates, trusts, (including elder law, Wills/EPOAs)
DavidPattersonTax , Commercial, Policy
DeanTobinLitigation
DeborahManningHuman Rights, Refugee, and Immigration
DianeScrivenMental Health
DianeLowProperty
DonaldEvansElder Law
DorisTuProperty/Commercial/Asset Protection
DouglasRowanElder law, estates, trusts, property, commercial
EmilyHartson-MaeaFamily, Estate planning, Elderly Law
EmilyHocklyPublic law
EoinLawlessInsurance, Dispute Resolution
ErinJudgeCriminal, public, family
FintanDevineGeneral Practise
GaelGoulterFamily law
GarethLewisCivil litigation
GeraldineCrudgeEmployment
GilesBrantLitigation
GloriaKimCommercial litigation
GrahamSimpsonConveyancing, Estates, Elder Law
HelenaMunkowitsConstruction Law
HughFultonEstates, wills , trusts, employment
IanBassettContract and commercial litigation
IanMcIntoshHuman Rights
IsabellaBroadbentEmployment law
JaeKimCriminal law
JamesColemanTax
JeanineMitchellGeneral practice, trusts, estates, relationship property
JennyBeckFamily and Employment
JeremyBrowneCivil litigation
JessieDuffin (nee Hitchcock)Resource Management
JoannaPidgeonProperty Law
JoeO'NeillGeneral Practice
JohanneGreallyFamily
JohnKennedy-GoodRetired (Associate Member of the NZ Law Society)
JohnLambornFamily Law, Property Law, Estates Wills and Trusts
JohnLucasBusiness
John PaulGouldingGeneral Practice
JoshuaPietrasCivil Litigation, Employment, Criminal
JudithBullinCommercial/property
KimKyleFamily, Property, Trusts, Wills, Estates, Elder Law
KrisMorrisonCommercial
LaurenPeggAll aspects of family law
LesleyGrantProperty law, ElderLaw, Estates And Relationship Property
LisaGraceConveyancing
LisaAbramsHuman Rights, Privacy
LizLimBanking and finance
LorraineSmithCriminal Law
LucyRogersHuman rights law
LynetteDuncanGeneral Practice
MadeleineFlannaganFamily Law, Civil Law, Criminal Law
MagandriWalkerA range of community law, including family, employment, tenancy and consumer law.
MaileSanftFamily & Property
MargaretBearsleyPublic Law
MaricelWeischedeRefugee, immigration, media/entertsinment
MarieWeaversFamily Law
MarkDonovanEmployment Law
MarkRussellCommercial
MarkHendersonCivil Litigation and EmploymentÂ
MarySpillaneFamily
MaryMcCormick (nee Morais)General
MatthewLawsonResource management and Civil litigation
MelissaBourkeElder Law, Lawyer for the Subject Person, Trusts and Relationship Property
MichaelFisherBarrister
MichaelGraysonSolicitor
MichaelHocklyGeneral Practitioner
MichaelNiddProperty, Trusts, Employment , Relationship Property
MinaRassamLitigation
MiriamArcherProperty, Trusts
NicholasTaitGeneral Practice/Property Law
NicoleLim-KwanCriminal
PatrickKennellyGeneral Practice
PatrickWilsonCommercial and Finance
PaulO'NeillProperty Law and General Practice
PaulSaundersCriminal Law, Public Law, Tax
PaulCollinsDiscipline and regulation in the legal profession
PaulWestburyCommercial Law
PaulCoweyCivil litigation
PaulaWilsonEmployment
PauloGarciaCommercial Law - Property, Wills & Trusts, Estates, Business Migration, Immigration
PeterHardieGeneral Practice
PeterMcleodElderly Law/Trusts/Estates
PeterSaraACC
PeterMcKenzie-BridleEmployment, ACC, Civil Disputes
Petervan RijCommercial
PhilBlakeleyTax
PhilipHamlinCriminal Law
RachelTanTrusts, Wills & Estates, Succession & Asset Planning, Superannuation, Relationship Property
RachelGrantMaori law and Public law
RachelPeetersFamily Law
RaeNieldConsumer and supply chain
ReneeDeyProperty, Private Client and Family Law
RichardMcLeodImmigration, Refugee and Human Rights
RichardWoodConveyancing, Criminal and Civil litigation
RichardCaugheyFamily Property Trusts
RichardFlinnLitigation
RoshanaChingLitigation
SamuelWadhamCriminal
SaraJonesElder, Estates and Contract/Commercial
SarahUlmerInsurance, Dispute Resolution
SarahMckenzieCriminal, BORA and Tort
SharonTainuiTax and commercial law
Sharon, JanetHagueTax
ShelleyEdenEmployment
Si TongChenFamily Law
SimonGreeningEmployment
SophieClarkEmployment
StephanieCorbanLitigation and Dispute Resolution
StephaniePettigrewFamily Property
StephenMullinsCorporate/commercial
StevenO'ConnorLitigation
StewartGermannCommercial; franchising; business
Stuartvan RijInformation Technology
SusanMartellDisability and mental health
TessaSimpsonMaori law, Treaty of Waitangi
Tian YiYaoLitigation
TimConderCivil and Criminal Litigation
TimothyGouldingElder Law, estate planning, wills,property and trusts
TimothyOrrTrusts and Estates
VirginiaMillsFamily Trusts Wills Estates Conveyancing
WarwickWrightProperty, business, trusts and estates

If you are a New Zealand lawyer* or legal academic you are invited to sign this statement here

*Either the holder of a practising certificate, or admitted to the roll of Barristers and Solicitors of the High Court of New Zealand