Updated to correct name of #DefendNZ
New Zealand’s Ministry of Health says that there is no truth to claims that a law has been passed to specifically allow doctors to decide whether to euthanize COVID-19 patients.
Many of the posts share a screenshot (archived archive.is/52bFP ) of a headline from the Gateway Pundit, which reads, ‘New Zealand Government Approves Euthanasia for COVID Patients.'
The virality of the claim coincided with New Zealand making assisted dying legally available from Nov. 7, 2021, per the End of Life Choice Act 2019 (here and here). It came into effect a year after New Zealanders voted in favor of the legislation in a public referendum (here and here).
In December, grassroots group #DefendNZ, which opposes the End of Life Choice Act (www.defendnz.co.nz/about-us), published an article which appears to be a catalyst for the claims spreading on social media.
The article expressed concern that assisted dying laws could be used “as tools to resolve such a serious crisis” as a rise in COVID-19 hospitalizations. It also published part of an exchange with the Ministry of Health, in which a spokesperson said a circumstance might arise in which a person with COVID-19 could be eligible for assisted suicide (see archive archive.is/haygo).
Blair Cunningham, a senior advisor for New Zealand’s health ministry, told Reuters that it was not accurate for social media posts to suggest the legislation was specifically introduced to euthanize COVID-19 patients.
“There is no truth to this claim,” she said in an email.
Cunningham repeated the same statement published by #DefendNZ, which said: “Eligibility is determined on a case-by-case basis; therefore, the Ministry cannot make definitive statements about who is eligible. In some circumstances a person with COVID-19 may be eligible for assisted dying.”
Such eligibility requirements, she explained “are clear… These include that a person must have a terminal illness that is likely to end their life within six months.”
Other requirements also stipulate that a patient must be 18 years or over, a citizen or permanent resident of New Zealand, experiencing unbearable suffering that cannot be relieved in a manner that the person considers tolerable, and must be competent to make an informed decision about assisted dying.
According to official guidance here (see the section on process for accessing assisted dying), at least two doctors and, if required, a psychiatrist must assess a person’s competency to decide on assisted death. Additional guidance (see page 4 here) says “the person must be the one to raise assisted dying with someone in their health care team. A health professional cannot suggest it as an option.”
Missing context. Representatives for the New Zealand Ministry of Health say New Zealand has not approved euthanasia for COVID-19 patients if doctors decide that the patient is unlikely to survive - but say in some circumstances, a person with COVID-19 may be eligible for assisted dying.
This article was produced by the Reuters Fact Check team. Read more about our fact-checking work here .
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.