• Matt Vickers' late wife, Lecretia Seales, made her final weeks a test case for reform of the law forbidding euthanasia In New Zealand.

Last week a young Belgian man aged 17 elected to be assisted to die under Belgium's assisted dying laws, which have recently been widened to be available to minors. Few details of his circumstances have been released, out of respect for his privacy and that of his family.

What we do know is that he was incurable, and had extreme physical suffering. So extreme that he sought to take the drastic step of ending his life. We don't know whether his condition was terminal.

What I have been able to determine through various news reports is that he was euthanised through palliative sedation. Palliative sedation is the practice of administering sleep-inducing medication until the patient is in a drug-induced coma. The coma lasts until the patient dies.


Palliative sedation is legal in New Zealand by virtue of it being in a legal grey area, and is often used when a patient is not responsive to pain management. The patient is put into a permanent sleep state until they starve to death, in order to spare them the worst of their suffering.

It is quite possible this young man would have experienced the same outcome under existing New Zealand law, if he was indeed approaching death. It's a form of legal euthanasia and is regarded as ethical by the New Zealand Medical Association.

Less than 24 hours after the young man's tragic early death was reported, Matthew Jansen of the Care Alliance challenged pro-assisted dying campaigners in New Zealand to respond to the case. Do we support the euthanasia of minors, like this young man? Are we that morally bankrupt, he implies?

Jansen misses the point. What is morally wrong is to exploit the slim details of a case like this - where there is more that we don't know than what we do - to try to further his cause.

We can assume that this was incredibly difficult decision, for the young man, for his family, and for the doctor. No well person wants to die, and no good doctor wants to help another human being to die if there is any realistic hope of recovery.

What is so frustrating about the anti-euthanasia lobby is that they are so fond of exploiting basic sensational facts - 17 years old, Belgian, reportedly euthanised - with no knowledge of the circumstances that led to that decision, and a complete lack of compassion and respect for the individual and family involved, who no doubt supported the heart-wrenching choice after some long, intense and tough discussions.

Under Belgian law, the minor must have the consent of his parents, so we do know he had the support of his family. How heart-breaking it must have been for them.

Like the family of the Verbessem twins, the deaf and blind twins who were euthanised under Belgian law in 2013, the family of this young man would probably be horrified to know that their son's case was being used as an example of laws gone wrong.


Do I support the decision of this young man? Frankly, my support or otherwise is irrelevant, as is the lack of support from people like Jansen. It is vile to pass moral judgment on the choices of this person, who undoubtedly did not share Jansen's moral framework.

What I trust and hope is that this individual made the choice that was right for him, and did so with the blessing of his doctor, and his family.

I support the introduction of legislation for access to assisted dying for terminally ill New Zealanders over the age of 18, similar to the laws that have been in place and have remained unchanged in Oregon since 1997.

There is certainly a case for broader laws - making a choice available for people with chronic degenerative illnesses - or yes, for people like this young man who was clearly in circumstances we can barely begin to imagine.

But I have always maintained legislation needs to be done carefully, needs to be closely monitored, and needs to highly minimise the risk of false positives. For that reason I support the strongest safeguards possible and the strictest criteria.

What I don't support is the moral righteousness of people who seek to pass judgment and apply condemnation to the choices of people such as my late wife, or this poor young man in Belgium.

The Care Alliance are essentially saying they know what is best for this patient, better than the doctor, better than the family, better than the patient himself. That staggering arrogance is the real crime.