The End of Life Choice Bill
In 1995 MP Michael Laws Private Member’s Bill “Death with Dignity” was defeated by 61 votes to 29, with many abstentions. A few years later (2003) MP Peter Brown’s Private Member’s Bill once again raised hopes but was defeated by 2 votes at its first reading.
Maryan Street was the next MP to tackle this issue and promoted her End of Life Choice Bill, but was forced to withdraw her Bill in advance of the general election in 2014. However, she got the ball rolling once more with her successful petition on medically-assisted dying in 2016. The tide was turning.
June 2015 saw the tragic death of lawyer Lecretia Seales, the same day that her case for medically assisted dying was turned down. Lecretia had filed a claim with the High Court arguing that her GP should not be prosecuted under the Crimes Act (1961) in assisting her in her death with her consent, and that under the Bill of Rights Act (1962) she had the right to not be subjected to the unnecessary suffering of a long, cruel death.
Finally, MP David Seymour’s End of Life Choice Bill passed its first reading in parliament on 13 December 2017 (76 to 44 votes), and after a year of hearings the Select Committee is due to report back to parliament on the 27th March 2019.
The proportion of people in favour varies slightly in all surveys but the latest independent results obtained through a Horizon poll in 2017 showed that 75 per cent of the 1300 people surveyed favoured a law change to allow the terminally ill and people with irreversible and unbearable suffering to be helped to end their lives peacefully. Only 11 per cent were opposed. The largest support group was those in the 65 to 74 age range. Of that group, 82 per cent agreed.
In 2018 a group of Otago University researchers reviewed existing data on New Zealanders’ attitudes to euthanasia or assisted dying over the past 20 years. A total of 36,304 people had been surveyed. Across all these surveys, on average, 68.3 per cent of people had supported euthanasia and 14.9 percent opposed, while 15.7 percent were neutral or unsure.
The criteria and processes of the EOLC Bill.
David Seymour’s End of Life Choice Bill was drawn from the members’ bills ballot on 8 June 2017. The First Reading vote passed the bill to Select Committee stage on 13 December 2017.
The New Zealand Labour Party and New Zealand First Coalition Agreement provides for a referendum after the third reading of the Bill. The Green Party also support the Bill in cases of terminal illness.
Responding to these political realities in December 2018, David Seymour produced a Sponsor’s Report indicating a number of recommendations for changes to his Bill as originally proposed. These included holding a public referendum at the same time as the next General Election in 2020 and modifying the criteria for ‘irremediable suffering’ to “a disease, illness, or medical condition that is neurodegenerative and likely to end his or her life within 12 months”.
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