The following is a Press Release by #DefendNZ, which DTNZ has decided to publish in full.
If you’ve been following #DefendNZ for a while now, you’ll know that late last year we sent an important Official Information Act request (OIA) to the New Zealand Ministry of Health (MOH). This resulted in us publishing an exclusive article titled, ‘MOH says Kiwis with COVID-19 can now be eligible for euthanasia’, which subsequently went viral internationally, with tens of thousands of people seeing it.
International media giant Reuters, aided by overseas-owned New Zealand news outlet Newshub, cried foul, and attempted to label us as ‘fake news’ by misleading the public – however the facts of our original article remain undisputed – even by the MOH.
In that OIA, we asked the following question:
“Could a patient who is severely hospitalised with Covid-19 potentially be eligible for assisted suicide or euthanasia under the Act if a health practitioner viewed their prognosis as less than 6 months?”
We did this because we have serious concerns about the lack of robust safeguards and protections for vulnerable people in the End of Life Choice Act which legalises assisted suicide and euthanasia in New Zealand.
COVID-19 is an illness which disproportionately affects older people, and we had concerns about whether a global pandemic of this nature could merge with a badly crafted piece of legislation to create a perfect storm of risk to an already very vulnerable sector of the community.
In response to our OIA, the MOH replied with the following (emphasis added):
There are clear eligibility criteria for assisted dying. These include that a person must have a terminal illness that is likely to end their life within six months. A terminal illness is most often a prolonged disease where treatment is not effective. The EOLC Act states eligibility is determined by the attending medical practitioner (AMP), and the independent medical practitioner.
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.”
As you can imagine, we believed that this concerning development was something important that the public needed to be made aware of, so we published an article highlighting this issue.
That article quickly went viral all over the globe, which forced the mainstream media to start taking notice and making enquires of their own to the MOH.
This is where the distortion of the truth began, and, ironically, it was done under the guise of ‘fact checking’ #DefendNZ and the current situation in NZ.
On Thursday 6 January 2022, Reuters, one of the largest news agencies in the world, published an article entitled: ‘Fact Check-New Zealand has not approved euthanasia specifically for COVID-19 patients’.
Seemingly coincidentally on the same day, New Zealand’s Newshub published the article. Other than on overseas-owned Newshub, it didn’t seem any other news agency internationally shared the Reuters article, so it seemed well-orchestrated for release here – although only by overseas-owned Newshub.
The story, which was available on Newshub’s website, has strangely been removed by Newshub. We requested comment from their Editor.
We were curious as to why it was removed. Did the MOH request its removal? Was it because it gave oxygen to our exclusive story? Or had a New Zealander with COVID-19 actually been assisted to die already?
Newshub Editor Mark Longley, replied to our request for comment, saying that he “thinks” the story was unpublished as part of Newshub’s licensing agreement with Reuters.
“I think it was unpublished as part of our licensing agreement with third party news organisations. The stories only remain on our site for 30 days after which time they are removed. I can assure you it wasn’t done because the Ministry of Health asked us to or any other clandestine reason.”
However, that response simply doesn’t stack up, as many other stories from Reuters remain on Newshub’s site long after 30 days. For example, stories about the Tongan volcanic eruption, Twitter permanently banning a US politician for misinformation, and the December 31, 2021’s latest on the worldwide spread of Omicron, are all republished from Reuters on Newshub, and remain active much longer than 30 days after they were published – so Newshub’s story just doesn’t wash. We may never know why it was unpublished, but the following misleading parts of the article might shed some light on why Newshub euthanised the story.
Astute observers who read our original article will straight away know that not once did we ever say or even suggest that euthanasia had been specifically approved for COVID-19 patients.
The problem we highlighted in our article was the lax nature of the already existing qualifying criteria in the End of Life Choice Act, and how, in the very words of the MOH, patients who are ill with COVID-19 could also become caught up in it.
The main body of the Reuters article, which, remember, is held up as a ‘fact check’ of our original article highlighting this issue, becomes even more misleading with statements such as (emphasis added):
“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.”
“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.”
Not once in our article did we ever state, or even try to infer that a new law had been passed to allow patients with COIVD-19 to be euthanised.
Neither did we ever state, or even remotely suggest that the End of Life Choice Act was passed specifically to euthanise patients with COVID-19.
In a nutshell; the fact checkers at Reuters, along with the MOH, are responding to completely fabricated allegations that were never once made by us
Then, as if to add insult to injury, the Reuters article goes on to make the following statement (emphasis added):
“[Blair] 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.”
In other words, what we said in our article was actually 100% accurate.
There was no falsehood or deception on our part, yet, despite that fact, Reuters still felt the need to try and imply that we had misled the public by concluding with a verdict of:
“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.”
Again, not once did we ever suggest or even remotely imply that New Zealand law had been changed, or that legislation has been specifically introduced to euthanise COVID-19 patients.
Despite these important facts, and the 100% accurate reporting in our original article, Reuters still singled us out as the “catalyst for the [false] claims spreading on social media”.
Ironically, what this so-called ‘fact check’ has actually done is to create a misleading sense of ‘nothing-to-see-here’ about the issue of COVID-19 patients and their eligibility for euthanasia in New Zealand.
So where does all of this leave things?
Despite the questionable ‘fact check’, nothing has changed since the New Zealand Ministry of Health officially stated in their OIA to us that: “In some circumstances a person with COVID-19 may be eligible for assisted dying.”
This threat to vulnerable New Zealanders is the most pressing issue here, not the behaviour of self-appointed ‘fact checkers’.
Which is why we will continue to work tirelessly for greater accountability and safeguards for all of the potential victims of the End of Life Choice Act.