Assisted Dying and Evidence-Based Law-Making: A Critical Analysis of an Article’s Role in New Zealand’s Referendum
Voluntary Assisted Dying, Assisted Dying, End of Life Law, Referendum, Law Reform, Evidence-Based Law, Evidence-Based Research, Research Design, New Zealand
Aim: To critically analyse the reliability of an article which claims to be evidence that the End of Life Choice Act 2019 provides a “potential hotspot for family, community and social discord that may not be easily remedied” should the legislation receive public support in New Zealand’s September 2020 referendum.
Method: The subject article was reviewed multiple times by all authors and critiqued against three criteria: a reliability pyramid developed to weigh evidence about assisted dying; principles that guide the conduct of social science research; and the use of reliable and current social science literature to support factual claims.
Results: The study being analysed involved a single interview and so is located at the second bottom row of the reliability pyramid. Its research design is also unable to support the broad findings that are asserted. Other flaws in method included findings being extended beyond the data, and failure to state appropriate limitations in the research method. Further, claims are made that are unsupported by the weight of reliable social science literature.
Conclusion: The subject article is methodologically and factually flawed so is unreliable as evidence. It should not be considered in the assisted dying debates preceding the forthcoming referendum.
Funding Statement: This research did not receive any specific funding.
Declaration of Interests: Ben White and Lindy Willmott were engaged by the Victorian Government (Australia) to design and provide the legislatively mandated training for doctors involved in assisted dying. Both have also developed a model Bill for assisted dying for parliaments to consider. Ben White is a recipient of an Australian Research Council Future Fellowship (project number FT190100410: Enhancing End-of-Life Decision-Making: Optimal Regulation of Voluntary Assisted Dying) funded by the Australian Government. Lindy Willmott is a member of the board of Palliative Care Australia, but states this article only represents her views. Jocelyn Downie was a member of the pro bono legal team in Carter v Canada, the Royal Society of Canada Expert Panel on End-of-Life Decision Making, the Provincial-Territorial Expert Advisory Group on Physician-Assisted Dying, and the Council of Canadian Academies Expert Panel on Medical Assistance in Dying. Andrew Geddis is a member of ‘Lawyers for End of Life Choice’ and ‘Yes for Compassion’. Colin Gavaghan is a member of ‘Lawyers for End of Life Choice’ and a board member of ‘Yes for Compassion’. He was an expert witness for the plaintiff in Seales v Attorney General.
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Ben White et al, "Assisted Dying and Evidence-Based Law-Making: A Critical Analysis of an Article’s Role in New Zealand’s Referendum" (2020) 133:1520 NZ Med J 90.
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