An Opinion piece by Maryan Street, President of the End-of-Life Choice Society of NZ.
I predict that Parliament will pass the End of Life Choice Bill this year enabling New Zealanders to join more than 176 million people around the world living under enlightened laws that allow them the right to die with dignity.
No matter that we will not be following our forebears, who led the world in human rights legislation to give women the vote 125 years ago, in pioneering this particular law change, the trend is clear and it will inevitably happen.
The Australian state of Victoria will join administrations in Europe and North and South America in adopting voluntary assisted dying laws in June and Western Australia is in the process of drawing up similar legislation.
Parliament will make its decision nearly four years after Judge David Collins tossed the issue into its lap when rejecting a bid by the terminally ill Lecretia Seales for High Court approval for medical assistance to die peacefully and painlessly.
A referendum at the 2020 general election is likely to be required to seal the law change, but with every reputable poll in recent years showing a sizeable majority (anywhere between 63-76%) of New Zealanders in favour that should not be a problem.
More than 35,000 people made submissions on ACT leader David Seymour’s End of Life Choice Bill, 1800 or so of them were heard in person and the Justice Select Committee’s timetable for reporting back to Parliament was necessarily extended by six months to March 27.
Seymour’s Bill includes strict criteria in the proposed law to avoid recklessness, disadvantage to the vulnerable or abuse and last month he took the unusual step of releasing a Sponsor’s Report making some critical amendments to facilitate its passage through the second and third readings.
He included provision for a referendum that would guarantee New Zealand First’s continued support for the measure. The party’s policy has long insisted on a people’s ballot before it became law, and it was not known whether its nine MPs would continue to oppose it en bloc without a referendum or exercise their individual conscience votes on the Bill.
Seymour also suggested amending the eligibility criteria to limit access to medical assistance in dying to those with terminal illnesses. This would ensure continued support from the eight Green Party MPs. The Greens have a current, immutable, policy position of supporting MAiD for terminal illness only and rejecting eligibility on the basis of unbearable suffering through irremediable medical conditions, which was included in the original Bill.
The Green’s ponderous policy process and currently fractious membership would not permit deviation from that position, which was established before Seymour’s Bill was introduced and expert submissions were heard.
The End-of-Life Choice Society is bitterly disappointed at the removal of unbearable suffering and irremediable medical conditions from the eligibility criteria, which were key parts of the Private Members’ Bill in my name that sat in Parliament’s ballot for 15 months in 2012-13 but was never drawn. (I withdrew it in September 2013 as it neared election year and I had very good advice that numbers of otherwise sympathetic MPs would vote it down if it were drawn, simply to avoid it being an election issue. I could not risk that.)
I am confident that David Seymour’s two amendments will ensure the Bill will pass and the EOLC Society will continue to back it on our campaign website www.yestodignity.org.nz on the basis that politics is the art of the possible.
Unfortunately, it won’t help my friend Ros, who suffers from a rare and cruel condition which is not terminal but causes extraordinary, irremediable pain and who bravely gave her submission to the Select Committee in person last year.
But it will bring progress and restore New Zealand’s international reputation as a far-sighted country dedicated to protecting human rights not only throughout life but at the end of it.
See the op-ed in Stuff
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