The people behind a widely shared quiz on the End of Life Choice referendum say they’re presenting the facts, but the leading advocate of law reform says it’s misinformation.
An online quiz related to the assisted dying referendum has been described as a “very clever piece of misinformation” by the End of Life Choice Act’s sponsor, Act leader David Seymour.
The quiz has been produced by VoteSafe, a group registered as a third party promoter with the Electoral Commission for the referendum. In the group’s statement about who they are and why they exist, they don’t specifically say they oppose the referendum passing – however, they do say they “don’t believe in legislation that would allow for wrongful deaths or put any of our fellow Kiwis at risk”.
The quiz asks 10 questions, described as being “approved by legal advisers”, about provisions in the End of Life Choice act. After taking the quiz, users are presented with how many answers they got correct, and further details about each specific area are provided. It has been shared on social media almost 50,000 times, suggesting a wide reach.
“What’s interesting about the quiz is that the purpose is not so much to be a quiz – it’s to imply, and posit, and leave doubt in the mind of the user,” said Seymour, who gave a range of criticisms on how questions were framed, and how they lead the user to certain conclusions.
One example relates to a question that asks “can an eligible 18-year-old receive a lethal dose without their parents knowing?” The correct answer to that is yes – however, it skates over the fact that to be eligible, that 18-year-old would also be a legal adult, be assessed as mentally competent, and would still have to have a terminal illness. He described such a scenario as “vaguely plausible, but the idea that it’s a real concern when the average age of people taking up assisted dying is 75 – I mean, come on”.
VoteSafe declined requests for an interview on the topic, but did provide a statement that addressed some of the questions. On this point, chairperson Henoch Kloosterboer said it was entirely correct to say that “if the End of Life Choice Act becomes operative, a lethal dose could be administered to a young person who is at least 18 years of age with no parental knowledge being required”.
In that statement, Kloosterboer said, “Our goal is to debunk misinformation and to help Kiwis make an informed choice. The votesafe.nz quiz is a great way for people to engage in the issue and test their knowledge.
“The fact that other people may have interpretations that differ from ours illustrates that this legislation is not well understood in the community. This, in turn, highlights why we exist as an organisation. The public should not have to vote on a crucially important proposal that is not properly understood by voters. That’s why we have a team of lawyers, doctors and experts helping with this campaign.”
Another example raised by Seymour relates to a question that asks whether “people have to try any treatment options first before requesting assisted dying”. In the answer section, it correctly notes that the answer is no, but added that was the case “even if those options would likely help to cure their illness or treat their symptoms. Under this act, assisted dying doesn’t have to be a last resort.”
Seymour described that argument as “outrageous”, and said “the alternative that they raise would be contrary to the Bill of Rights. But actually, more importantly, the bill says they need to understand their options for end-of-life care, and be having an experience that cannot be relieved in any other manner – well, that is a last resort.” Kloosterboer said he had legal advice which contradicted that.
In a video on the VoteSafe website, Kloosterboer said that he had personal experience with such decisions. He described the experience of his stepmother, who was diagnosed with a “really aggressive” form of cancer, and given three to six months to live. However, after being asked to take part in a new treatment trial, she lived for more than three years beyond her prognosis. “That extra period of time is such a grace, and such a beauty,” said Kloosterboer, adding that if the legislation was in place, she may have felt pressure to take the option of assisted dying.
Seymour said that the wider purpose of the survey was to undermine what people understood the legislation to be about. “The point is that they pose as giving people useful information, and the information they give is not useful. It’s pernicious, and designed to create fear, uncertainty and doubt about the bill.”
He also raised the prospect of these questions being specifically framed based on what had polled well in a recent survey carried out by Horizon, reported by One News. In that report, Seymour said the survey was “dirty politics – they’re testing lies and false statements”. Horizon declined to comment on who had commissioned the poll.
Seymour gave an outline of how such polling worked. A question would be asked, he said, followed by another question that framed the issue in a certain way, and then the first question would be asked again to determine whether people would change their mind. “Nobody ever found out who Horizon’s client was, but I think we can make a reasonable assumption that when they designed this survey, they polled which questions would reduce people’s confidence in voting for this legislation.”
Kloosterboer said “we are aware that a complaint has been made concerning a survey that was conducted some weeks ago, but it seems the complaint may still be under investigation so we cannot comment on that issue at present”.