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Some COVID-19 patients may be eligible for assisted dying under a new law in New Zealand, the country’s Health Ministry said, but the legislation was not introduced for COVID-19. It’s meant for terminally ill patients and was passed by New Zealand voters in 2020.
The law has strict eligibility requirements, including that the person must have a terminal illness that causes them unbearable suffering and is likely to end their life within six months.
It requires multiple doctors to determine whether the person is eligible and competent, but the providers cannot suggest euthanasia as an option or make the decision for them. The services are likely to be provided in a person’s home, rather than in a hospital, health officials said.
As COVID-19 cases continue to surge, the headline on a blog post claims New Zealand decided to approve euthanasia for COVID-19 patients.
"New Zealand okays euthanasia for COVID patients," reads the blog’s headline, which was shared in numerous social media posts.
"‘Patients admitted to hospital with COVID-19 can die by euthanasia if doctors decide they might not survive, the New Zealand government has declared,’" said one tweet that drew a quote from the Catholic Herald article before offering commentary: "That’ll certainly increase the numbers. There’s evil afoot."
But the headline is a misrepresentation of an assisted dying program that recently went into effect in New Zealand — and social media posts referencing the news leave out significant context. Passed in a referendum by New Zealanders in 2020, the End of Life Choice Act of 2019 has strict eligibility requirements and is only meant for terminally ill people. It wasn’t introduced for COVID-19 patients.
The story was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)
The law took effect in November 2021 about a year after the vote.
In December, an anti-euthansia website called The Defender published an article that seemed to ignite the claims now circulating online.
According to the article, the New Zealand Health Ministry told The Defender that, in some circumstances, a person with COVID-19 may be eligible for assisted dying, and suggested that the law could be used as a tool if COVID-19 hospitalizations were to spiral out of control.
But New Zealand health officials said that the story and others like it are taking the law out of context and omitting its eligibility requirements and rules.
"There is no truth" to claims that suggest the law was introduced for COVID-19, said Blair Cunningham, a spokesperson for the health agency.
To be eligible for the program, a person must be 18 years or older and meet all of the following criteria:
a citizen or permanent resident of New Zealand
suffering from a terminal illness that is likely to end their life within six months
in an advanced state of irreversible decline in physical capability
experiencing unbearable suffering that cannot be relieved in a manner that the person considers tolerable
competent to make an informed decision about assisted dying.
Two doctors and, in some cases, a psychiatrist must assess whether a patient is eligible and whether the person is competent to make an informed decision. The legislation says that doctors can’t suggest euthanasia as an option to the patient or make the decision for them. The patient alone must be the one to raise assisted dying with someone in their health care team.
The services, Cunningham said, are most likely to be provided in a person’s home or other community settings, rather than in hospital settings.
The health agency added that a terminal illness is most often a prolonged disease where treatment is not effective and that, in some circumstances, a person with COVID-19 may be eligible for assisted dying. But because eligibility is determined case by case, the agency "cannot make definitive statements about who is eligible."
Blog posts and social media posts claim that New Zealand has approved euthansia for COVID-19 patients, with suggestions that it could be used as a tool if COVID-19 hospitalizations rise dramatically.
An assisted-dying law was passed by New Zealand voters in 2020. But while some COVID-19 patients may be eligible under the law, the legislation was not introduced for COVID-19.
The law has strict eligibility requirements, including that the person must have a terminal illness that is likely to end their life within six months and causes them unbearable suffering. It requires multiple doctors to determine whether the person is eligible and competent, and doctors cannot suggest euthanasia as an option or make the decision for patients.
These stories are misleading and omit critical facts that would give a different impression. Mostly False.
Catholic Herald, New Zealand okays euthanasia for COVID patients, Dec. 20, 2021
Twitter, post, Dec. 26, 2021
The Defender, EXCLUSIVE: MOH says Kiwis with COVID-19 can now be eligible for euthanasia, Dec. 19, 2021
BBC, New Zealand euthanasia: Assisted dying to be legal for terminally ill people, Oct. 30, 2020
The Guardian, ‘It is about being in control’: how New Zealand’s assisted dying law is bringing comfort to one family, Nov. 12, 2021
New Zealand Ministry of Health, Assisted Dying Service, Updated Dec. 3, 2021
Reuters, Fact Check-New Zealand has not approved euthanasia specifically for COVID-19 patients, Jan. 6, 2022
Email interview, Blair Cunningham, spokesperson for the New Zealand Ministry of Health, Jan. 10, 2022
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