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University of Otago researchers are cautiously predicting that most voters will support the End of Life Choice Act in next month’s assisted dying referendum.
Their review of the situation is outlined in "Vox populi, vox Dei? Previewing New Zealand’s Public Decision on Assisted Dying", an academic paper examining the proposed legislation’s journey to parliament.
Also considered are the public and legal debate on the legislation, and its overall ramifications.
Written by Dunedin School of Medicine PhD candidate Jessica Young and Otago Faculty of Law professor Andrew Geddis, the paper also draws from extensive demographic studies on attitudes towards assisted dying.
Given divided and diverse views, assisted dying represented a "classic intractable policy controversy" or "wicked problem", the authors said.
New Zealand, "more by accident than design", would use "all three decision-making processes"— taking legal action, the development of legislation and a public referendum— in reaching its conclusion.
Prof Geddes said that although it might appear the product of a “piecemeal” approach, the End of Life legislation had resulted from rigorous legal, judicial and democratic processes and discussion.
New Zealand was "in a good position to harness social decision-making to enact laws in a very considered way”, he said.
The researchers found a major challenge for legal decision-making on the issue was the position held by professional medical bodies and related organisations, such as the Care Alliance (“a coalition to oppose euthanasia and assisted suicide”), which register strong opposition to assisted dying generally, and particularly the End of Life Choice Act.
New Zealand’s general and specialty medical associations rejected assisted dying as unethical, except for the Royal New Zealand College of General Practitioners and the New Zealand Nurses Organisation, which had adopted neutral positions to reflect the diversity of members’ views.
The “official” position of New Zealand’s medical profession has been portrayed as vehemently opposed to assisted dying.
However, individual members of each association were not as united in their views, the paper said.