Proposed Abortion Law Reform in New Zealand
• The Government has stated that it wants to ensure abortion laws are consistent with treating abortion as "a health issue that is a reproductive choice".
• To this end, the Law Commission has been asked to provide advice on the possible changes to New Zealand's law concerning abortion. The Law Commission will conduct a review and report back to the Minister of Justice.
• The two key laws that regulate abortion in New Zealand are the Contraception, Sterilisation, and Abortion Act (1977) (CSAA) and the Crimes Act (1961).
• The CSAA describes the constitution and appointment procedures for the Abortion Supervisory Committee, its functions and powers; outlines the provisions relating to licensing of providers and counselling; and describes the procedure to be followed when a woman seeks an abortion.
• The Crimes Act (1961) outlines the circumstances under which procuring an abortion is unlawful.
• The Law Commission has created a website that explains the current law and the process for receiving abortion services: http://abortionlaw.lawcom.govt.nz/
• People do not have to provide their name or contact details and they can provide input until 5pm on 18 May 2018.
The request from the Minister of Justice that the Law Commission review the abortion laws centres on the Government's stated desire "to make changes to ensure New Zealand's abortion laws are consistent with treating abortion as a health issue that is a reproductive choice for women, rather than as a criminal issue" (Letter from the Prime Minister, Rt Hon Jacinda Ardern, to Minister of Justice, Hon Andrew Little – not dated).
In response to the question of whether the current legal framework needs to change we offer the following points for consideration.
Abortion is best treated as both a justice issue and as a health issue. The starting presumption should always be in favour of human life, no matter the stage of development of that life. Any decision to end a human life should only be granted as an 'exception' to the principle that all members of the human family have an inherent dignity. This principle, spelled out in the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, is meaningless if it is not enshrined in the law. The Contraception Sterilisation and Abortion Act 1977 holds the rights of the child and the rights of the mother in tension, having due regard for both. This should not change.
In every abortion there are two human lives involved and at least one life is at stake. Our present laws reflect the fact that human life should not be taken without good reason. Making abortion solely a 'health issue' places the fundamental right to life, something that should be a presumption for all human life, outside of any law and making the rights of the unborn child totally dependent on the choice of the mother. This which would potentially allow for abortion for any reason, including gender selection. We need legislation which clearly specifies the circumstances under which abortion remains unlawful and under which abortion providers will be prosecuted for unlawful abortions.
Any change in legislation needs to ensure women are free to make informed choices, including the choice to continue their pregnancy. Abortions have been shown to cause psychological and mental harm to some women, affecting their physical and emotional well-being. What is required are better processes that support women and allow them access to unbiased information and adequate safeguards by way of independent counselling. In the face of evidence which shows that many women choose abortions under duress – whether from a partner or family or because of financial or social reasons – the introduction of mandatory independent counselling will allow them greater control and choice while minimising the risks to health and well-being that often follow.
The current law does not make criminals of women – a fact often misrepresented by those proposing change. Any woman in New Zealand who procures an abortion within the current regulatory framework is not committing an illegal act. The law does, however, protect them from unlicensed and unscrupulous abortion providers. "Unlawful" providers can be prosecuted under current legislation but the woman seeking an abortion cannot be prosecuted. Sec 83 of the Crimes Act specifically states that while the person who "procures" the miscarriage is liable for imprisonment, the "woman or girl shall not be charged as a party" to any offence.
Health Select Committee states 80% are opposed to medically-assisted dying
Press Release 3/08/2017
An overwhelming 80% of submissions to Parliament’s Health Select Committee oppose medically-assisted dying, it was revealed in the Committee’s Report on euthanasia and assisted suicide released yesterday.
“This report expresses significant public concerns around the unintended consequences of any such legislation,” said Dr John Kleinsman, Director of the New Zealand Catholic Bioethics Centre. “It also makes the important point that the ‘issue is clearly very complicated’, something that the New Zealand media have, to date, largely failed to convey in their mostly shallow reporting on this issue.”
“It is extremely telling that certain members of the Committee remain unconvinced that the models seen overseas provide adequate protection for vulnerable people. It is our view that the Report does not give the sorts of assurances needed by the New Zealand Parliament to change the current law, assurances that it won’t pose substantial risks of coercion and abuse for those who are most vulnerable, the elderly, sick and disabled,” said Kleinsman.
The Health Select Committee’s parliamentary report follows an in-depth inquiry into euthanasia.
More than 21,000 submissions on this issue were received by the Select Committee from around the country between 27 August 2015 and 1 February 2016, and almost 1000 people provided oral submissions.
At last year’s hearing before the Select Committee, Cardinal John Dew reiterated the risk that legalising euthanasia would pose for too many. “We are concerned that some people will choose euthanasia because they feel they’re a financial or physical or emotional burden on their families and carers.” This concern is borne out in the Report which clearly identifies, in multiple places, that the desire to ‘not become reliant on others’ and ‘not wishing to be a burden’ is what motivates many to make euthanasia and assisted suicide available.
“This reinforces our view that a law change would initiate a change in the way society would view the disabled and those who are dying, as well as the way we care for these people. Of even greater concern is that these persons would come to view their own place in society in a much more tentative way,” said Dr Kleinsman.
The Committee commented too that agreement on the criteria for euthanasia and assisted suicide was in itself contentious, with some submitters thinking it would or should be even broader than terminal illness or an irreversible condition, illustrating the difficulties of setting clearly defined boundaries that could later be defended.
The Committee rightly commends the services given by palliative care providers and hospices, while perceiving that there was a need for greater communication between the palliative sector and the public so as to facilitate a better understanding of the efficacy of palliative care. It also encourages the Government to investigate improving access to these services. “While there are gaps in access to services and varying levels of palliative care around the country it is a fallacy to promote euthanasia or assisted suicide as a valid choice – it would become a Hobson’s choice for many,” said Kleinsman.
While Dr Kleinsman expressed disappointment that the Report did not engage more with the solid evidence that was presented by many individuals and groups, he concluded, “anyone who reads this Report in full with an open mind cannot help but be left with huge concerns about the ability of any proposed law to supply adequate safeguards, the sort of safeguards that would work in the real world.”
“In the absence of clear and irrefutable evidence that the most vulnerable would be adequately protected then, on such an issue when the stakes are life and death and when a mistake is permanent, the precautionary principle must apply,” said Dr Kleinsman. “It is not up to opponents to prove beyond doubt that a law would be dangerous. Rather, it is up to proponents of euthanasia and assisted suicide to prove beyond doubt that it would be safe and this Report clearly does not deliver the required level of assurance.”
Suicide Option Would Undermine My Cancer Battle
I have been diagnosed with a terminal brain cancer — a glioblastoma. Because of my diagnosis, I would likely be eligible for the state's help to commit suicide under a bill before the General Assembly — and that is terrifying.
By MAGGIE KARNER | OP-ED
I Lost My Daughter to Suicide: A Nurse’s Response to Brittany Maynard’s Campaign for Assisted Suicide
Euthanasia surges in Belgium
Doctors in Belgium are killing an average of five people every day by euthanasia, figures revealed on Wednesday.
The statistics also show a 27-percent surge in the number of euthanasia cases in the past year.
The soaring number of deaths will inevitably fuel fears that euthanasia is out of control in Belgium, which only months ago became the first country to allow doctors to kill terminally ill children.
Fears elderly will feel like burden.
Matt Rilkoff. Taranaki Daily News. 26/05/2014
The director of the New Zealand Catholic Bioethics Centre was in New Plymouth last week where he talked to close to 140 people at a public meeting about why he believed euthanasia should not be legalised in this country....
Though head of a religious organisation, Kleinsman said his opposition to euthanasia was based on social concerns that its introduction, when coupled with increasing rates of depression and elder abuse, could see the elderly pressured to take their own life to avoid feeling like a burden and a cost.
Click here for complete article.
Press release: Legalising euthanasia or assisted suicide would be bad for New Zealand
“While the decision by Labour MP Maryan Street to withdraw her Euthanasia Bill from the Members Ballot today is welcomed, we understand that it arises from purely political motives – a wish to avoid a controversial debate in an election year – rather than out of concern for the dangerous social consequences of such a Bill,” says Dr John Kleinsman, Director of The Nathaniel Centre, the Catholic Bishops bioethics agency.
“The current law provides the best possible protection for people. We have always had grave concerns about the consequences of state-sanctioned killing of persons as well as moves to promote easier access to suicide as a way of dealing with suffering. We will continue to highlight the dangers and negative social consequences that would flow from legalising assisted suicide or euthanasia. While the Bill has been withdrawn for now, we know the debate will continue,” says Dr Kleinsman. “Ironically, Street’s decision coincides with reports in the media of a high-level review into suicide prevention amongst those with addictions and mental health issues. Why would we want to make suicide easier to access when, at the same time, we recognise it as a major social tragedy?”
“Ultimately, the law change being proposed in Ms Street’s End of Life Choice Bill would have eroded the choices of many and would not have lead to good robust decisions or better end of life care. We remain committed to advocating for equitable access to quality palliative care, disability support, and mental health services for people and their families,” says Dr Kleinsman.
Review of The Human Tissue Act and Proposed New Zealand Law Change to Organ Donor Rules
23 March 2006
The New Zealand Parliament is set to debate a change in the law that would stop anyone overturning an organ donors' wishes.
Should Human Embryos be Used for Research in New Zealand?
9 February 2007
Background and Context:
In 2004 the Human Assisted Reproductive Technology Act (the HART Act) came into effect in New Zealand. Passed by Parliament, this Act established a legal framework for human assisted reproductive procedures such as in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) and for research that uses human gametes (sperm or eggs), human embryos, or hybrid embryos (created, for example from a human gamete and a non-human gamete). Under the Act a committee was established to advise the Minister of Health on matters concerned with reproductive technology including research. Recently, the Committee on Assisted Reproductive Technology (ACART) after hearing public submissions recommended to the Minister the approval of research using cells from established human embryonic stem cell lines. The Ministry of Health has subsequently issued guidelines for such research. The Minister has now asked ACART for advice on whether human gametes and embryos might be used for research in New Zealand.
New Vatican Document is a Positive Affirmation of Human Dignity and Ethical Research
12 December 2008
Statement on Dignitas Personae [Download PDF]
"Looked at closely, the Instruction Dignitas Personae is a realistic and positive document that recognises the often competing desires generated by developments in biomedical research at the beginning of life," says spokesperson for the New Zealand Catholic Bioethics Centre, Mr John Kleinsman, commenting on the newly released Vatican document.
New Zealand Catholic Bishops' Statement
26 November 2009
Family Planning Hamilton Request for a Licence to Dispense Mifepristone (Mifegyne ® RU 486) with Misoprostol for Early Medical Abortions [EMA].
The New Zealand Catholic Bishops' are opposed to and deeply concerned at the possible granting of a licence to dispense Mifepristone (Mifegyne® RU 486) with Misoprostol at the Hamilton Family Planning Clinic or at any other of the 29 New Zealand Family Planning Clinics for the purpose of procuring abortions. RU 486, when used with Misoprostol procures abortion without the need for surgical intervention.
Reflection on the New Zealand Catholic Bishops' Statement
26 November 2009
"Congregations must understand that people with unwanted pregnancies are making choices about someone who, in a very real sense, belongs to the entire congregation. If the baby is born it will be baptized into the community and become part of each member's life...if aborted that spot will be filled only by a hole... The congregation, then, must respond to either that baby or that empty space by recognizing their complicity in the structuring of a world where such a decision was made ... congregations can respond this way only if they understand that what is growing inside that woman's body is part of the life of the congregation..."
Kathy Rudy, "Thinking through the Ethics of Abortion."
Catholic Teaching on Euthanasia and Care of the Dying
16 November 2010
Human dignity is unconditional
In New Zealand we are currently witnessing renewed calls for euthanasia to be legalised. Those in favour of euthanasia promote the understanding that 'a dignified death' or 'death with dignity' rests on our right to have control over our own death, including the right to have someone end it for us at a time of our choosing.
To live each day with dignity: a statement on physician-assisted suicide
28 June 2011