Politics

Big vote in favour of euthanasia bill

MPs used their consciences last night to endorse - by a substantial 76 to 44 votes - the End of Life Choice Bill. 

The euthanasia or assisted dying measure promoted by Act leader David Seymour made it through Parliament's First Reading hurdle unlike a similar bill in 1995, lost 61 to 29, and a 2003 attempt which failed 60 to 58.

Eleven MPs spoke in this latest debate, six against and five in favour, with New Zealand First voting as a bloc for the bill after agreement a public referendum on the issue would be considered and voted on later.

Seymour said people with terminal illnesses would be allowed under his proposal "to choose how to go and when they will go".

The Justice select committee chaired by Labour MP Raymond Huo will now hold hearings and receive public submissions on a measure Seymour told Parliament was favoured by 75 percent of the public in opinion polls.

His bill provides for people, aged 18 plus of sound mind, with terminal illnesses or conditions in an advanced state of irreversible decline to seek help from two doctors to ultimately end their lives.

The MP said New Zealanders were already able to have informal euthanasia by receiving final high doses of pain medicines; others had committed violent suicides rather than face suffering.

"Their suffering is needless and it hurts all of humanity if we allow it when we have a choice," he told the House.

National Party leader Bill English led the argument against the bill, sharing his speaking time with one of his MPs, Simon O'Connor who chaired the select committee which heard from the public on a petition to Parliament in the last term calling for assisted dying.

English said it was Parliament's duty to protect people and had a core principle in law prohibiting taking the life of another. "That protects everybody, particularly the most vulnerable."

While many MPs would have experienced the suffering and deaths of loved ones, he urged them to "act as lawmakers, not just as parents or children or siblings or friends of those you have seen die. "Our role.... is to ensure our society has laws that protect."

He said enabling a doctor to take a life would put pressure on the vulnerable. "Their lives will become more fearful. They will be subject to the pressure that their life has less value and they should make the decision."

O'Connor said the debate was a "sad day for this House", dealing as it did with the "state-sanctioned killing of New Zealanders."

He countered Seymour's citing of 75 percent support for assisted dying by saying 80 percent of submitters to the select committee he chaired had "said No".  

"This bill before us is the worst example of euthanasia in the world," he said, adding "This bill will make involuntary deaths possible."

"The patient in this space never makes the choice.... the doctors make the choices, the family make the choices."

Labour MP Louisa Wall spoke in favour of the bill, saying the Lecretia Seales case in which the terminally ill Wellington lawyer was denied permission by the High Court to choose to end her life had persuaded her the status quo was intolerable.

"A citizen of our country went to the courts for a right and the courts said she did not have that right and it was for Parliament to create an opportunity for someone like Lecretia Seales."

"She was competent, clear and with support of family and wanted to choose a point at which her life would end. Her definition of dignity was about the respect that she was starting to lose for herself. It was degrading for her."

Wall said any issues with the bill could be fixed by sending it to the select committee.

Tracey Martin spoke for New Zealand First, which had decided to vote as a caucus for the bill after discussions with Seymour over making provision for a binding public referendum.

She believed the voting public should be given the entire bill and all the background information MPs would have on it and be asked to say yes or no.

Pointing to Seymour's figure of 75 percent support and O'Connor's estimate of 80 percent, she said: "The issue we have is how we frame the question."

"This is too big an issue for this House to decide," Martin said, saying that would imply to the public that 120 MPs had more of "a right to have this conversation than they do".

Recalling her own care of her grandfather with dementia, she said she would find him awake, petrified, in the hallway at night. "Trace, if I could push a button I would end it now," she quoted him as saying. "But did he mean the dementia, or did he mean his life?"

National backbencher Nuk Korako said euthanasia was "foreign to Maori and had no place in our society". 

"Watching a painful death can be shattering; the indignities; watching their helplessness and often their feeling that they have been a burden on their whanau.

"Death has never been a final ending for our people but the beginning of a journey. It is a life in the afterlife where we gather once more with our tupuna. "

The time of death was not just about the loved one but also the whanau. "It is about learning, grieving, laughing, despairing, reminiscing and coming to the point of where we can finally let them go. Taha wairua - being a part of something that is greater than ourselves."

Assisted dying would alter the process of being visited by and taken to the afterlife by an ancestor, Korako said.

Aupito William Sio, a Labour minister, said Pacific people had a variety of views on assisted dying but there was a tendency to accept that death was a pathway to another life.

He set out the background to the two previous euthanasia bills in 1995 and 2003 and to the select committee hearings into the petition.

While Sio considered voting for the bill to go to the select committee he believed the previous committee's work had enabled him to make his decision against Seymour's bill.

"Our laws follow values... traditional values, and I believe on this most fundamental issue the value of life is sacred."

Green MP Julie Anne Genter said her party had in the past voted as a caucus on such bills but was allowing a conscience vote because Seymour's went further than the Greens' existing policy to allow terminally ill patients with six months or less to live to have assistance to end their life, under careful regulation.

"This bill goes slightly further than that and I do have concerns about how broad the bill is, particularly in the disability area."

She would support the bill as there was a compelling case for assisted dying. "It is not about suicide it is about when a person is very close to death," she said. "It is entirely possible to have a framework where no one is abused.The idea that there would be a 'licence to kill' is very far away from what we are debating. I'm sure we can amend it to safeguard those with disabilities and vulnerable people."

National MP Maggie Barry opposed the bill, saying as a former minister for senior citizens she had seen elder abuse and the way families could take power away from vulnerable people. The bill was "by far the worst" of those to go before the New Zealand Parliament. "It is fatally flawed and could not even be fully rewritten to prevent vulnerable people being predated upon."

The wording was open to interpretation. If an ill person expressed a "wish" to explore the death option, then there was an obligation on medical practitioners that triggered a series of steps "to the full aim of facilitating that person's death."

Barry claimed the words "irreversible decline" would be a definition of "anyone living with a disability. The message is: 'You are better off dead'".

Her caucus colleague, Chris Bishop, was the only one of six National speakers who backed Seymour's bill, saying Parliament had a once in a generation opportunity "to create a compassionate society".  Legalising assisted dying was "morally the right thing to do. It upholds human dignity, and [gives] the ability to end your life at a time and place of your doing."

Bishop said the status quo, in which people had to suffer terribly or look to suicide by violent means was manifestly inadequate. "People are already taking their own lives prematurely and doctors are already assisting with this."

National's Chris Penk voted against, saying assisted suicide was the "choice to end all choices. It is irreversible."

He said too many New Zealanders already committed suicide and Parliament should to more to address that problem. He doubted the safeguards in the bill would be adequate, saying terminal diagnoses could be wrong.That was why capital punishment was outlawed. "Mistakes are made. Just ask Teina Pora."

A run down of the numbers - ayes

Labour Party: 

Kiri Allen, Ginny Andersen, Jacinda Ardern, Tamati Coffey, Liz Craig, Claire Curran, Kelvin Davis, Ruth Dyson, Paul Eagle, Kris Faafoi, Peeni Henare, Chris Hipkins, Raymond Huo, Willie Jackson, Iain Lees-Galloway, Andrew Little, Marja Lubeck, Jo Luxton, Nanaia Mahuta, Trevor Mallard, Kieran McAnulty, Stuart Nash, Greg O'Connor, David Parker, Willow-Jean Prime, Priyanca Radhakrishnan, Grant Robertson, Adrian Rurawhe, Deborah Russell, Carmel Sepuloni, Jan Tinetti, Louisa Wall, Angie Warren-Clark, Duncan Webb, Meka Whaitiri, Michael Wood, Megan Woods.

New Zealand First:

Darroch Ball, Shane Jones, Jenny Marcroft, Ron Mark, Tracey Martin, Clayton Mitchell, Mark Patterson, Winston Peters, Fletcher Tabuteau.

Green Party: 

Marama Davidson, Julie Anne Genter, Golriz Ghahraman, Gareth Hughes, Jan Logie, Eugenie Sage, James Shaw, Chloe Swarbrick.

National Party:

Amy Adams, Paula Bennett, Chris Bishop, Jonathan Coleman, Matt Doocey, Andrew Falloon, Nathan Guy, Harete Hipango, Brett Hudson, Nikki Kaye, Matt King, Barbara Kuriger, Mark Mitchell, Jami-Lee Ross, Scott Simpson, Stuart Smith, Erica Stanford, Anne Tolley, Tim van de Molen, Hamish Walker, Jian Yang.

Act New Zealand:

David Seymour.

A run down of the numbers - no

Labour Party:

David Clark, Anahila Kanongata'a-Suisuiki, Damien O'Connor, Jenny Salesa, William Sio, Jamie Strange, Rino Tirikatene, Phil Twyford, Poto Williams.

National Party:

Kanwaljit Singh Bakshi, Maggie Barry, Andrew Bayly, David Bennett, Simon Bridges, Simeon Brown, Gerry Brownlee, David Carter, Judith Collins, Jacqui Dean, Sarah Dowie, Bill English, Chris Finlayson, Paul Goldsmith, Jo Hayes, Steven Joyce, Nuk Korako, Denise Lee, Melissa Lee, Tim Macindoe, Todd McClay, Ian McKelvie, Todd Muller, Alfred Ngaro, Simon O'Connor, Parmjeet Parmar, Chris Penk, Shane Reti, Alastair Scott, Nick Smith, Louise Upston, Nicky Wagner, Michael Woodhouse, Jonathan Young, Lawrence Yule.

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