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Euthanasia vote: Lecretia Seales' mother celebrates victory – Lecretia "would have been over the moon."

17 Nov 2019 1:33 PM | Philip Patston (Administrator)

Source: NZ Herald

Euthanasia campaigner Lecretia Seales' mother says her daughter would have been "over the moon" to see a bill legalising assisted dying finally pass in Parliament.

Shirley Seales was among those in Parliament's public gallery as MPs on Wednesday passed Act leader David Seymour's fiercely debated End of Life Choice Bill 69 votes to 51.

The legislation will now go to a public referendum alongside next year's general election.

Wellington lawyer Lecretia Seales sparked a national conversation about assisted dying in 2015 when she brought a case asking the court to allow her to legally end her life after being diagnosed with a brain tumour.

She died the day after the High Court rejected her case, but inspired Seymour to take up the cause.

Lecretia Seales was a dogged campaigner for the right to end her own life.

Lecretia Seales was a dogged campaigner for the right to end her own life.

After Wednesday's vote, Shirley Seales said her daughter had succeeded.

"If nothing else she wanted to start the conversation and she sure as heck did that," Seales said.

"I'm just so incredibly proud of her. By the time she took her case to court she was so close to dying and it took so much energy for her to actually go through with it, and to appear in court was just unbelievable, especially on the last day.

"She would have been over the moon."

Euthanasia campaigner Lecretia Seales' mother, Shirley, says her daughter was always looking to start the conversation. Photo / Audrey Young

Euthanasia campaigner Lecretia Seales' mother, Shirley, says her daughter was always looking to start the conversation. Photo / Audrey Young

Seales' efforts and case drew attention from many MPs across the house during the debate in the House on Wednesday night, including from Seymour who quoted her in the opening speech.

Afterwards he described Seales as a "martyr in the proper sense of the word" and said her family and lawyers had provided a huge amount of time to the End of Life Choice campaign.

But both he and those fiercely opposed to the legislation are already turning their minds to the referendum, which is expected to cause a ramp-up in already fierce public campaigning.

Historical polling so far has suggested the public would likely back the bill.

A poll in July found there was 72 per cent backing for some kind of assisted dying for the terminally ill among the public. Support over the past 20 years has averaged to about 68 per cent and been consistently positive.

However, the referendum question will ask voters whether they support the End of Life Choice Bill becoming law, rather than assisted dying, and the effect that will have is still unclear.

Since the bill – which would let terminally ill adults request assisted dying – was introduced in 2017, Seymour has devoted the bulk of his time to seeing the legislation through eight protracted parliamentary debates and a record 39,000 submissions from the public.

He says he's optimistic about the next battle.

"Our job is going to be to ensure that we have proper information about how the bill really works, what really happens overseas and on that basis I think the New Zealand people will welcome it," he told reporters after the vote.

But the bill's staunchest critics says they believe the next year will be a chance to turn the public's mind.

"I'm concerned that we've only got one year to inform the public of New Zealand what the bill intends," outgoing National MP Maggie Barry said.

"It's not debate anymore about the issue. It's not about whether you're in favour or euthanasia or not. It's about whether this bill will deliver the end of life choice you want."

The bill is the fourth attempt at legalise assisted dying – starting with one in 1995 – and the only one to clear even a single reading in Parliament.

What is the End of Life Choice Bill?

It's a piece of legislation introduced by Act leader David Seymour that would make it legal for people to request assisted dying, or euthanasia, from doctors, and legal for health practitioners to help people die under certain conditions.

Who would be able to ask for assisted dying?

The option would only be open to those who have been diagnosed as terminally ill and with less than six months left to live. It originally also covered people with "grievous and irremediable" conditions, but got narrowed down to get more support in Parliament.

How would assisted dying actually work?

Doctors and nurses are banned from starting conversations about euthanasia under the law, so a patient has to request it themselves.

They would have to go through a series of checks with two doctors, including one appointed through the Ministry of Health.

If the patient meets all the criteria, they get given a form to return, if and when they've picked a time, place and method for how they want to die. They have six months to use it and if they don't, they have to go through the whole process from the start.

Patients can choose whether to have the drugs delivered intravenously, by mouth or tube and whether to trigger it themselves or have a doctor or nurse do it at a place of the patient's choosing, including their home.

Health practitioners are allowed to opt out of participating in any part of the process and the bill states they're not meant to be penalised by their employers for doing so.

Can you change your mind?

Yes. Patients are allowed to change their minds at any point.

What's been the major concerns?

Opponents of the legislation have raised a number of issues but the most common has been about coercion.

They say the bill lacks the proper safeguards to protect vulnerable people from pressure to take up assisted dying. They argue it would put subtle pressures on the ill or elderly, particularly if they are made to feel like a burden, and open them up dangers from more overt forms of coercion.

The bill includes clauses saying doctors have to stop the process if they suspect coercion, but critics argue physicians may not know patients well enough or be properly trained to make the call.

How would it be policed?

All assisted deaths would leave a paper-trail that would be collected by a Ministry of Health-appointed registrar. They would check every death, keep data and report any concerns to medical oversight bodies or even the police.

So what happens now?

A public referendum will now be held alongside next year's general election to decide whether the bill should become law.

The bill has been subjected to heated debate in and outside of Parliament for nearly two years and it's expected campaigning will ramp up even further next year.

Many MPs who supported the legislation only begrudgingly backed it going to a referendum because it was the only way to get enough support in Parliament.

Historically, polls have shown there's majority support for some form of assisted dying in New Zealand. But the referendum will ask people whether they specifically support the End of Life Choice Bill and it's not clear what effect that might have.

Justice Minister Andrew Little has said the Government will try to provide objective information to the public ahead of the vote.

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