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End of Life Choice Bill euthanasia law inches closer to final vote

16 Sep 2019 9:31 AM | Philip Patston (Administrator)

Source: NZ Herald

Parliament has continued to hammer out the details of euthanasia legislation ahead of its final vote. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Euthanasia legislation has inched closer to a final vote in Parliament as opponents criticised the speed of the debate.

Act leader David Seymour's End of Life Choice Bill, which would allow terminally ill adults to request assisted dying, returned to the House on Wednesday night for the third of what will be five lengthy debates over last-minute changes.

The legislation passed its second reading by 70 votes to 50 in June and Seymour has promised a swathe of amendments to secure much-needed votes ahead of the third-and-final reading.

He scored another victory on Wednesday night as his latest tranche of changes was voted through 68 votes to 52 as the Committee of the Whole House debated a section of the bill that sets up the organisations that would oversee and monitor assisted dying.

It lays out requirements such as reviewing the legislation after three years and for a "Review Committee" that will have to look at reports about every death to see if there's any non-compliance.

Seymour's changes for this section were largely technical.

But those opposed to the bill put forward 35 of their own amendments this week, many trying to tighten the rules for who could be appointed to the oversight bodies.

"They must be beyond reproach," National's Melissa Lee told the House as she asked for backing for her amendment that would ban anyone who had ever faced a professional complaint from one of the panels to be set up.

Several of the amendments had yet to be voted on, but all 15 considered ahead of Seymour's were rejected.

It's part of the push and pull between the Act leader and the bill's critics that has characterised the debates.

Those against have largely dominated the time in the House, calling for as many speeches as the chair of the debate will allow, and making clause-by-clause attacks in an effort to show the bill as not safe enough given the seriousness of its implications.

National MP Chris Penk described his interrogation of the bill on Wednesday as a "fine examination".

While every amendment from opponents has so far been voted down, the individual vote called for each proposal has seen sessions in Parliament run long into the night and across days.

Seymour, meanwhile, on Wednesday went as far as to complain during the votes that the teller for the "noes" (the person counting their votes), Maggie Barry, was taking too long to count and criticising her for taking to Twitter in the middle of one vote.

In Barry's tweet, she argued the debate had been shut down for a vote too early in the night without all amendments being given proper time, describing it as a "terrible injustice".

The person chairing the committee - on this occasion Assistant Speaker and Labour MP Ruth Dyson - effectively gets to end the debate when they think there's been enough argument, as long as the majority of MPs agree.

What's already been changed?

The previous two debates saw a raft of major changes introduced by the Act leader, including:

• Limiting the bill to only apply to those with six months to live, whereas it previously covered people with "grievous and irremediable" conditions

• Prohibiting a health practitioner from initiating any discussion about assisted dying

• Giving employment protections for any doctor, nurse, or psychiatrist who objects to taking part in the process on any ground

• Explicitly stating that if any pressure is suspected on a person applying for assisted dying, doctors and nurses must stop the process

What happens next?

The bill will return to the House on September 25 for a fourth debate. But it's the fifth that will be the most contentious.

During that final session, MPs will have to consider whether to put the legislation to a referendum.

New Zealand First has demanded a plebiscite as a condition of its support and vowed to vote "no" if it doesn't get it.

Without NZ First's nine votes, Seymour could not afford to lose another single vote from the second reading - a difficult ask.

That's why he's promised to support the referendum. But with plenty of MPs taking a wait-and-see approach, it's not yet clear whether there's enough support in the House for him to get one.

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