Motorists queue at the Otara testing station after a positive COVID-19 coronavirus case was reported in the community as the city enters a level 3 lockdown in Auckland on February 15, 2021. ( AFP / DAVID ROWLAND)

Posts misleadingly link New Zealand's euthanasia law to Covid

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Social media posts shared thousands of times globally claim New Zealand has "approved euthanasia for Covid-19 patients" and "would rather kill people than treat them". The posts circulated as the island country battled a wave of infections after being largely virus-free for much of the pandemic. However, these posts misrepresent New Zealand's euthanasia law that passed before the pandemic. The New Zealand health ministry, a medical expert and a legal scholar separately told AFP that Covid-19 patients "have treatment options" and are unlikely to meet the law's eligibility criteria.

"New Zealand has approved euthanasia for Covid19 patients if doctors decide they are unlikely to survive," reads an Instagram post shared on December 28.

The post references this article published by a website called Gateway Pundit.

Quoting a source, the article states: "It is bizarre that a country which has been trying to protect it citizens by closing down completely from a virus from which people can fully recover … is now suggesting that these patients should be killed by their doctors."

New Zealand had largely been coronavirus-free until August when it started seeing record infections likely driven by the fast-spreading Omicron variant.

As of March 4, there have been 63 virus deaths in the country of five million.

Similar posts linking the euthanasia law to Covid-19 deaths were also shared in English, Portuguese and French.

"Instead of treating your early symptoms with medicine and prevent hospitalization... they'd rather kill you in hospital," one social media user wrote in response.

"As the virus is not killing enough people, then the government will do it," said another.

However, these posts misrepresent the law.

Pre-pandemic legislation

New Zealand's parliament passed the country's euthanasia law in November 2019 -- weeks before the coronavirus was first reported in the central Chinese city of Wuhan.

A referendum the following year confirmed overwhelming support for the law which took effect in November 2021.

The law allows a mentally sound adult who has a terminal illness likely to kill them within six months and is experiencing "unbearable suffering" to request a fatal dose of medication.

The request needs to be signed off by the patient's physician and an independent doctor, with a psychiatrist called in if either has doubts about the person's ability to make an informed decision.

A review of the text of the law found no direct reference to Covid-19.

Responding to the misleading posts, a spokesperson for the New Zealand Ministry of Health told AFP: "New Zealand has not approved euthanasia for people with Covid-19".

'Unlikely to apply for Covid patients'

Michal Lynn Boyd, an expert in long-term conditions from the University of Auckland, told AFP the euthanasia law is "unlikely" to apply to someone ill with Covid-19.

"If someone is that sick with Covid, they will likely not be alive that long, and highly unlikely to be conscious enough (not mentally competent) to ask for enactment of the [law]," Boyd said.

Jeanne Snelling, an expert in health-related law from the University of Otago, said Covid-19 patients "generally have treatment options."

"I don't think they would be considered terminal," Snelling said.

History of Covid misinformation

The website Gateway Pundit that published the report linking New Zealand's euthanasia law to Covid-19 has a history of sharing misinformation.

AFP has previously debunked posts published in the website that make misleading claims about Covid vaccines here and here.

COVID-19