Research and Analysis

 

 
 

New Zealander's views on euthanasia

An analysis of submissions made to the health Select Committee's investigation in response to the petition of Maryan Street and 8,974 others

 

Submissions to the Health Select Committee’s investigation into ending one’s life in New Zealand – touched off by the petition of Maryan Street and the Voluntary Euthanasia Society that asked for an investigation of public attitudes towards changing the law to allow for “medically assisted dying” – demonstrate a strong public political will against legalising euthanasia.

An analysis of the 21,436 submissions made to the Committee has found the following:

  • 78% of submissions are against changing the law to allow for euthanasia
    • Over 16,000 unique submissions were made against legalisation
    • The most commonly raised arguments against changing the law are:
      •  The innate value of human life and the need for the law to uphold this value as a fundamental right (40%)
      • The danger legalised euthanasia poses to vulnerable people (38%)
      • That legalising euthanasia is not necessary given the abilities of palliative care to treat pain and suffering (31%)
      • The danger legalised euthanasia poses to the elderly (25%)
      • The importance (to individuals, families and/or society) of meeting suffering and death with care and support (24%)
      • That legalising euthanasia will send mixed messages about suicide as a response to suffering (22%)
  • 21% of submissions are for changing the law to allow for euthanasia
    • Roughly 4,500 unique submissions were made in favour of legalisation
    • The most commonly raised arguments for changing the law are:
      • The desire for choice and the need for the law to uphold the freedom of choice (74%)
      • The desire not to live if losing abilities or sense of self (41%)
      •  The desire not to live if in suffering (41%)
      • The desire for a dignified death, which the current legal situation does not permit (38%)
      •  The desire to avoid pain associated with illness or disability (34%)
      •  That it is better for families not to have to watch someone in pain/suffering (30%)
  • 1% of submissions either state no position or deal exclusively with the first two Terms of Reference (regarding the factors that lead one to want to end their own life, or the services available to those who want to end their own lives)

WHY THESE FINDINGS ARE IMPORTANT

The Health Select Committee received 21,435 individual, unique submissions in response to Maryan Street’s petition, which asked Parliament to “investigate fully public attitudes towards the introduction of legislation which would permit medically assisted dying in the event of a terminal illness or an irreversible condition which makes life unbearable.” Clearly, there was a vast public desire to be heard on this topic.

 Unlike a poll, which generally asks people to respond with only a yes or no to a simply stated question of a complex issue, submissions made to the Health Select Committee reflect a deeper level of engagement in the issue at hand. Those who made submissions not only had to express their views in their own words, but they also had to put their names to those views and take the trouble to send them along to the Committee.

 Thus the content of these 21,435 submissions are very important for those who would wish to take a good reading of the pulse of the engaged and invested public on the issue of euthanasia. At a ratio of over 3 to 1, that pulse beats against the introduction of legislation.

THIS ANALYSIS

Dr Jane Silloway Smith has sampled 1,568 of the 21,435 submissions made to the Committee, using a method of simple random sampling. The sampling process was completed between February and August 2016.

Dr Smith used a random number generator to select page numbers on the “Submissions and Advice” page of the Parliament website, using the keyword “maryan street” to capture only those submissions made in response to this investigation. As new batches of submissions were uploaded to the Parliamentary page, Dr Smith continued to randomly sample, excluding those pages she had already sampled.

The findings in this analysis with regards to the percentage of submissions against and in favour of a change in the law carry a confidence interval of 2.4 with a confidence level of 95%.

Published 27 September 2016