- There is a Duty to provide the necessities of life.
- There is a Duty to avoid omissions dangerous to life.
- Homicide is defined as the killing of a human being by another, directly or indirectly, by any means whatsoever.
- Acceleration of death is a chargeable offence.
- "No one shall be deprived of life except on such grounds as are established by law and are consistent with the principles of fundamental justice." (Bill of Rights)
The Crimes Act 1961
This legislation covers the taking of one's own life and bringing about the death of another. This could be by various means such as the withholding of the essentials of life, the giving of substances to hasten the death, and assisting of a suicide.
Section 151: Duty to provide the necessities of life. If a person is unable to care for themselves, or because of their mental or physical state are unable to put themselves under the care of another, then the caregiver is legally bound to provide the necessities of life. Failure to do so is an offence under the Act. "Passive" forms of euthanasia withhold the necessities of life and therefore a person dies from starvation and (more likely) from dehydration. This can take several weeks during which time the person is subjected to much suffering. Read more
Section 157: Duty to avoid omissions dangerous to life. Every one who undertakes to do any act, the omission to do which is or may be dangerous to life, is under a legal obligation to do that act, and is criminally responsible for the consequences of omitting without lawful excuse to discharge. Anyone who cares for another person, and does not feed or nourish that person, has failed to discharge their legal obligation and has committed an offence.
Section 158: Homicide is defined as the killing of a human being by another, directly or indirectly, by any means whatsoever. This is a very broad definition which would encompass all acts that would constitute euthanasia. However, not all acts would be regarded as culpable homicide.
Section 164: Acceleration of death. If the act or omission of an action hastens the death of another, the person who acted ,or failed to act, may be chargeable with an offence.
Section 179: Every one is liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 14 years whoâ€”
(a) Incites, counsels, or procures any person to commit suicide, if that person commits or attempts to commit suicide in consequence thereof; or
(b) Aids or abets any person in the commission of suicide .
Section 180: suicide pact. This applies where two or more persons have entered into a pact to commit suicide. It shall be for any surviving member of such a pact to prove that they should not be chargeable with homicide.
The New Zealand Bill of Rights 1990
Section 8: "No one shall be deprived of life except on such grounds as are established by law and are consistent with the principles of fundamental justice."
Section 11 allows a person to refuse medical treatment. The refusal of treatment by a patient is not euthanasia.
In June 2003 Attorney-General Margaret Wilson stated that the Death with Dignity Bill (March 2003) appeared to be "inconsistent with the right not to be deprived of life" as affirmed by the Bill of Rights. Although the Death with Dignity Bill contained comprehensive safeguards in the case of patients seeking assistance to end their lives, there was not the same degree of protection in the case of people making advance directives, and the Attorney-General said it could be argued that the right not to be deprived of life was a discretionary right. However, this was disputed by some.
New Zealand case study
One example of a case was Rex Arthur Law, aged 77 from Thames. His wife Olga was suffering from Alzheimer's disease, so in March 2002, he gave her nine sleeping pills. When she was asleep, Law hit her over the head with a mallet and then smothered her with a pillow. He then slashed his wrists, but the blood coagulated and he didn't die. The next day he turned himself in to the Police.
The case was treated sympathetically in the media. Law was convicted under the Crimes Act and served several months in prison.
The Sentencing Act 2002
The Act allows non-custodial and reduced sentences for murder, and judges may impose lesser sentences where life imprisonment would be inappropriate. The Act stipulates that in sentencing or otherwise dealing with an offender the court:
Must take into account any particular circumstances of the offender that mean that a sentence or other means of dealing with the offender that would otherwise be appropriate would, in the particular instance, be disproportionately severe. (Part 1, S. 8 (h)).
New Zealand sets a precedent in "futile care" case
In 1998 the High Court of Auckland granted doctors the authority to remove life support from a severely disabled infant despite the parents' strong opposition.
The infant, referred to as Baby L, was born two months prematurely and, according to the doctors, had a rare brain abnormality, Mobius Syndrome, and Polands anomaly. She was unable to swallow or smile, and could not feed or breathe on her own.
Justice Cartwright and Justice Paterson made Baby L a ward of the court, after the parents wanted to prolong her life. Doctors said her case was hopeless. Read more