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Published by The Post on 10 November 2023.
Journalist: Thomas Manch
The ACT Party may try to expand assisted dying laws in the coming Parliamentary term, raising the prospect of another fraught political battle over legalised death.
Two years after the End of Life Choice Act became law, and with 565 assisted deaths having occurred, ACT leader David Seymour – a driving force behind the legislation – is hopeful it can be expanded to allow people with grievous, but not terminal, medical conditions to seek a medically-assisted death.
“A lot of the, frankly, fearmongering that we saw before the law was passed has disappeared, because it was always unfounded,” Seymour said.
“And at the same time the need of those people who are excluded has become clearer.”
ACT party leader David Seymour says he wouldn’t be surprised if one of his caucus draw up a member’s bill to expand the End of Life Choice Act, which has allowed assisted dying for the terminally ill.
IAIN MCGREGOR/THE PRESS / IAIN MCGREGOR
The country elected by referendum to enact the End of Life Choice Act at the 2020 election, after a decades-long battle to get the legislation through a divided Parliament. But the law the that resulted had some significant concessions, and restrictions, on what Seymour had intended to win enough support in Parliament.
The law allowed New Zealanders aged 18 and over to seek a medically-assisted death if they were: suffering from a terminal illness likely to end their life within six months, in an advanced state of irreversible decline in physical capability, experiencing unbearable suffering, and could make an informed decision.
According to Te Whatu Ora - Health New Zealand, so far there have been 1441 applications for an assisted death, 565 have been successful and completed by medical practitioners, and 118 applications are ongoing. In 89 cases, the person changed their mind, and in 374 occasions the person died during their application process.
There were 295 people denied for failing to meet the criteria.
Seymour said he wanted to see his original version of the End of Life Choice bill be enacted, allowing not only the terminally ill to have an assisted death, but those who had “a grievous and untreatable medical condition” – such as Huntington's, multiple sclerosis, or motor neuron disease.
This would not be a “wholesale” change, Seymour said, and could be pushed for when the law is reviewed after three years of it coming into effect, in November 2024.
Seymour said he did not anticipate drawing up such a member’s bill, nor would ACT deputy leader Brooke van Velden, who lobbied for the law in Parliament, as he hoped both would be Cabinet ministers in the coming National-led Government.
End of Life Choice advocate Bobbie Carroll celebrates a successful referendum result for the End of Life Choice Act at an event in Parliament in 2020. Carroll, a campaigner for the law, died last week after a long battle with cancer.
KEVIN STENT / THE POST
Nor was he pursuing this as part of the coalition negotiations. Among those who voted against the law in 2019 were senior National Party members likely to be at the Cabinet table, such as Todd McClay and Paul Goldsmith.
“To take it on as Government policy, you need everybody committed to it ... I think it’s a safe bet that there would be people in the next Cabinet who would not see it as being consistent with their personal values,” Seymour said.
Such a “weighty moral issue” would almost certainly require a conscience vote in Parliament, he said, meaning each MP would vote according to their own view, not along party lines.
Seymour has maintained contact with people who advocated for the law. Earlier this week he attended the funeral of Bobbie Carroll, a campaigner for assisted death, who was going through the process herself when she died of cancer on October 30.
- The Post
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