One of New Zealand's leading aged care executives says he is worried about the possibility of "financial elder abuse" if the voluntary euthanasia bill is passed after the election referendum.
Brien Cree, founder and Executive Chairman of Radius Care (22 aged care facilities around New Zealand), stresses he is expressing a personal opinion with his opposition to voluntary euthanasia.
"In my view, the aged care sector as a whole doesn't support voluntary euthanasia, primarily because we are all about caring for people, of course. We focus on that and don't want to get involved with prematurely ending anyone's life."
Cree says he is entering the debate with a personal opinion shaped by two main factors:
- His mother's experience
- The prospect of elderly people coming under pressure – "financial elder abuse" – if the law comes into force.
"My 72-year-old mother had a stroke years ago and went into a coma. We were told she wouldn't survive. If the proposed euthanasia legislation had been in force then, she could have been a candidate to have her life ended.
"She woke up – so then we were told she wouldn't last long and she'd be a vegetable even if she survived. Then she started to sit up. Then we were told she couldn't swallow and it was still a terminal situation. Twelve months after that, she was driving round in an electric wheelchair."
His mother survived for many years after that and interacted well with family and friends and Cree says the whole art of aged care is, where possible, to give residents (and their families) a sense they have a future: "A great number of people have very fulfilling lives in our facilities and villages. We've had people meet and fall in love while in care and some even got married."
However, his greatest fear is that elderly people could be financially abused as a result of the new legislation, if voted in.
"I have seen elder abuse up close," he says, "and I know there are families out there who would move heaven and earth to end the life of a person if it meant they could get their hands on the money. I have seen and heard of some terrible experiences.
"I am worried elderly people could be enjoying life well enough but their family might take a different view – and in my view plenty of people like me are concerned that elderly people in care will feel pressured into it; that they might be made to feel they are a burden on their family."
That is at the heart of the voluntary euthanasia debate, as outlined in the Herald's all-you-need-to-know guide here. Perhaps the key question is whether the proposed law change will allow assisted dying to be offered to New Zealanders who want it while preventing vulnerable people from being pressured into dying.
Cree acknowledges there is currently no provision for aged care homes to be involved in euthanasia but says: "We just don't know how it will work out; and that is why the whole thing worries me.
"We have quite a few staff working for us who have strong personal views that absolutely oppose any form of euthanasia. I am worried the new law, if it comes into being, might make it untenable for those great staff to work for us if there is any kind of involvement with euthanasia."
Cree also says he fears "the creep" – the expanding of the boundaries once euthanasia is accepted in a society. Canada, one of only five countries which permit euthanasia, is now deciding whether to broaden its law to non-terminal patients, leading some anti-euthanasia groups to warn about the "slippery slope" of legalisation.
"That's what I mean by the creep. In 20 or 40 years' time, will we be asked to accept that everyone over 90 or 80 is to be euthanised, or for someone with depression who can't see a future for themselves?" says Cree. "The whole thing makes me very uncomfortable."
Where to get help:
- Lifeline: 0800 543 354 (available 24/7)
- Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) (available 24/7)
- Youth services: (06) 3555 906
- Youthline: 0800 376 633
- Kidsline: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7)
- Whatsup: 0800 942 8787 (1pm to 11pm)
- Depression helpline: 0800 111 757 (available 24/7)
- Rainbow Youth: (09) 376 4155
- Helpline: 1737
If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.
This content was paid for by Radius Care and produced by NZME in accordance with advertising rules and is not intended to represent official NZME policy in the ongoing euthanasia debate.