End of Life Choice Bill first reading – David Seymour rebuttal

Closing speech from ACT leader David Seymour in the first reading of the End of life Choice Bill on 13 December 2017.

DAVID SEYMOUR (Leader—ACT): Thank you, Mr Speaker, and thank you to all members who have made themselves available and made a contribution to this debate tonight. I’d like to briefly rebut some of the arguments that I’ve heard, attempt to allay some of the concerns that have been expressed, and thank those who have expressed support for this bill.

I felt when I was listening to Bill English’s contribution that we were talking at each other from different ages. The age that a blanket prohibition on all end of life is required as the cornerstone of our law may have been a good argument in 1995. It may have even been a good argument in 2003. It is not a good argument today because, as Chris Bishop so ably outlined, we now have almost a dozen jurisdictions around the world that have designed a law that does give choice to those who want it and protects those who want nothing to do with it whatsoever. We are like ships in the night: one speaking from 1995; the other speaking from 2017 when so much of history has moved on.

I heard from Nuk Korako that euthanasia is foreign to Māori. Well, I can tell members that the polling company that does all the work for Mr Korako’s party, Curia, has extensively polled the community to the point we can drill down quite precisely to different groups, and the figures for Māori, or New Zealanders who identify as Māori, are that they support having choice by a ratio of 2:1—50 percent support, 25 percent opposed, 25 percent undecided.

I heard from Maggie Barry that choice would be taken from thousands of others. Well, again, that simply does not acknowledge the reality that times have moved on, that jurisdictions have legislated. Other jurisdictions have studied their experience exhaustively and found, actually, that it is possible to have a law that gives choice to those who want it while protecting those who want nothing to do with it.

We heard from Aupito William Sio that because there has been a select committee already, somehow New Zealanders do not want choice. Well, I make the point that that committee did not conclude with any particular recommendation. It did not consider a bill, and the people who submitted, many of them writing in a single line, do not reflect the overwhelming majority of New Zealanders who support choice. No member of this House when polling in their electorate would rely on a self-selecting sample to establish what New Zealanders really thought.

I hear the concerns of Julie Anne Genter. There will be a lot to discuss as this bill goes forward through to select committee, if members are agreeable to do that tonight. I’m open to having that discussion. While I think the bill I’ve drafted is pretty good, and it’s the first one that has got approval under section 7 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act by the Attorney-General, I believe that we can all learn from each other and that a select committee process is likely to suggest improvements that will make this a better bill.

The question now, members, is whether or not we are prepared to allow that to happen. Are we content to live in a society where people are informally euthanised; where people refuse food, water and treatment with no safeguard, no accountability structure whatsoever; where people commit amateur violent suicide years before they would have like to have died because they knew that their capability was declining, and they couldn’t have done it later, so they had to do it alone without the assistance of anybody else. That’s the society that we live in. That is the society where doctors routinely use painkillers saying they have the intent of alleviating pain, but actually end people’s life.

Where is the protection for the sanctity of life in that world? And if anyone is happy with that status quo, how can they possibly oppose a bill that would give the protection of the rule of law to those people—those few people—suffering at the end of their life who cannot be helped in any other way, who have gone through a safeguarded process that will allow them to choose how they go and when they go? Thank you.