New Zealand Parliament passes euthanasia bill, public referendum last hurdle
WELLINGTON, New Zealand, November 14, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) – New Zealand’s parliament passed a highly contentious Bill legalising euthanasia and assisted suicide on Wednesday night. The public will now be asked in a referendum if the Act should come into force.
The End of Life Choice Bill passed 69 votes to 51 at its third and final reading in the House. The Bill needed 61 votes to pass.
Typically, after the third reading the Queen’s representative, the Governor-General would sign the Bill into law. This is called Royal Assent.
However, an amendment to the Bill was made recently when the NZ First Party announced they would only support the legislation at the third reading if a referendum was added. Their votes were necessary for the Bill to pass.
Therefore, New Zealand’s public now has the power to decide if euthanasia and assisted suicide will be legalised.
A referendum will take place at the 2020 General Election where voters will be asked if they support the End of Life Choice Act 2017 coming into force.
Provisions of the End of Life Choice Bill
Under the End of Life Choice Bill, euthanasia and assisted suicide are an option for people over the age of 18, who suffer from a terminal illness which is likely to end their life within six months.
It is expected that the person is in an advanced state of irreversible decline in physical capability and that they “experience unbearable suffering that cannot be relieved in a manner that the person considers tolerable.”
People with mental illness, a disability or advanced age are not excluded from being approved, although these reasons standing alone are insufficient.
A minimum period of 48 hours is required to pass between the medical or nurse practitioner writing a prescription and the administering of the lethal dose of drugs.
This fact caused MP Chris Penk to remark in his speech to Parliament that “it would be possible for a person to receive a diagnosis of terminal illness on a Wednesday, gain the necessary approvals under the Bill that same day and be dead before the weekend.”
Public doesn’t understand what is being proposed
A recent poll found that the general public doesn’t understand what the End of Life Choice Bill is proposing.
- 74% believed that the Bill legalises the choice of people to switch off life support machines.
- 70% thought refusal to be resuscitated would be legalised.
- 62% said that the Bill would allow for people to receive enough medication to be free of pain.
- 75% thought that euthanasia or assisted suicide would only be offered as a last resort after all other treatments to control pain had been tried.
These sobering statistics are a cause of concern when a public referendum will enforce the law.
Penk pointed out that for many “the only words of the Bill they will ever read before such a referendum will be the title of the Bill containing the euphemism that it does.”
Earlier in the day, four hundred people gathered at Parliament to send a message to politicians that they stood united against the Bill.
The group included doctors, lawyers, people with disabilities, religious leaders and people of different ethnic backgrounds.
The gathering was a visual reminder to politicians that opposition to the End of Life Choice Bill as well as to earlier attempts to legalise euthanasia and assisted suicide have been strong.
Public submissions on this issue have been unprecedented in New Zealand politics with more than 39,000 people feeling passionately enough about the issue to have their say.
More than 90% of those submissions were opposed to the End of Life Choice Bill.
An open letter opposing the End of Life Choice Bill has been signed by 1,500 doctors.
Politician Nick Smith urged his colleagues to “listen to those professionals who work every day with our dying, who have submitted so strongly and plea with us not to support this Bill.” He warned that “this parliament makes a poor judgement when it ignores the people on the coalface.”
Maggie Barry, the politician who has led the charge against the End of Life Choice Bill, was the last to speak before Wednesday night’s vote.
Lamenting the lack of robust debate in the House she noted that “this Bill’s fundamental purpose is designed to allow swift and easy access to euthanasia.”
“The burden of proof has always been with the pro-euthanasia advocates and the sponsor of this Bill. They have never been able to prove that there will not be unintended consequences.”
Barry concluded her powerful speech by reminding the House of the reality of the legislation, which is clouded by euphemisms. “It’s not assisted dying” she said. “It is euthanasia and it is assisted suicide… let’s not sanitise it. Let’s not pretend it is something different because it is not.”