Seymour’s End of Life Choice Bill

Act MP David Seymour unsuccessfully tried to introduce his End of Life Choice Bill “to be debated as members’ order of the day No. 1 on the first members’ day after the Health Committee reports back to the House on its inquiry into the petition of Maryan Street and 8,974 others”.

An objection denied leave for this to proceed.

Draft transcript:

DAVID SEYMOUR (Leader—ACT): Martin Hames was sick and knew he would get sicker. He took his own life alone not wanting to implicate anybody else in his death. He did it much earlier than he would have liked because he knew that the advancing condition of Huntington’s disease would prevent him from later taking such action.

People like Martin Hames find themselves ill and beyond the help of palliative care, and the Supreme Court of Canada describes them as having two options: they can take their own life prematurely, as he did, often by violent or dangerous means or they can suffer until they die from natural causes.

As the Supreme Court said, that choice is cruel. This cruel choice is not just a legal construct from a foreign court; it is all too real for New Zealanders.

Palliative care has advanced well in the past 20 years but, as the High Court admitted just last year, unfortunately it does not work for everybody, and, sadly, 10 percent of suicides by older New Zealanders are by those with terminal illnesses.

There needs to be a more compassionate option in New Zealand, and it is time for Parliament to debate and vote on assisted dying legislation. The democratic mandate for Parliament to do this is very, very large.

In a Colmar Brunton poll last year, 75 percent supported assisted dying legislation. There are few issues in any political time that three-quarters of New Zealanders support, yet that is the case with assisted dying legislation.

Last year close to 9,000 people signed a petition leading to a parliamentary inquiry on this issue. I hope that inquiry, currently before the Health Committee, will produce a high-quality report clarifying many facets of the issue for New Zealanders, but it cannot produce a bill that Parliament must debate and vote on.

There is, however, currently a member’s bill in the ballot. My End of Life Choice Bill is targeted towards cases of highest need and includes strong safeguards. It gives people with terminal illnesses a compassionate option.

To be clear, a law change will not result in more people dying but in fewer people suffering. Evidence from Europe finds that, on average, assisted deaths shorten a person’s life by only 10 days.

Crucially, this practice is already happening in New Zealand but in a far less safeguarded way. Auckland medical school research has found 4.5 percent of GPs surveyed on their most recent dying patient found that it was from a drug administered explicitly to hasten death.

The End of Life Choice Bill would, instead, put the patient in charge, allowing them to make a safer choice under the protection of the law.

For many, the strength of potential safeguards will be the deciding factor in supporting change, and although the issues are complex, I refuse to believe that it is impossible for a Parliament as mature and functional as ours to agree on a set of safeguards for this legislation.

I understand there are parliamentarians who oppose assisted dying no matter what, and I do not demand their support for the End of Life Choice Bill.

All I ask is for the rest of Parliament to have the chance to debate and vote upon the issue. In the Lecretia Seales case, the High Court said that leaving the choice to the courts would be “trespassing on the role of Parliament and departing on the constitutional role of judges in New Zealand.”

It is not that the judge said that he disagreed with Ms Seales’ application to die on her terms and at her timing; he simply said it was up to us to make that decision about what the law should be.

The time has come for us colleagues to do our job. To continue avoiding this debate would be a disservice to the people we purport to represent. New Zealanders deserve a Parliament unafraid to confront an issue that is on legal, moral, and democratic grounds critically important to them.

I seek leave to introduce my End of Life Choice Bill to be debated as members’ order of the day No. 1 on the first members’ day after the Health Committee reports back to the House on its inquiry into the petition of Maryan Street and 8,974 others.

Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought for that course of action. Is there any objection? There is objection.

While there were not many MPs in the House when leave was sought to introduce the Bill there only seemed to be one who object.

Should euthanasia law be decided by parliament or referendum?

Maryan Street’s  End of Life Choice bill (euthanasia) has been added to the Member’s Bill ballot and will need to be drawn to proceed. There’s been some interesting blog discussion about it.

One question that came up was whether any final decision should be made by MPs and parliament, or by people via a referendum.

Graeme Edgeler has confirmed that the final referendum option is feasible:

July 24th, 2012 at 11:21 am

Basically, you go through a whole Parliamentary process, debate the full implications of everything and come up with a fully fleshed out proposal, which is drafted as legislation. It passes all its readings, but only comes into force if a majority of people voting at a referendum answer the question: do you support the proposed system of legalised euthanasia contained in the End of Life Choice Act 2014? in the affirmative.

However I have emailed Maryan Street about this and she has responded:

No, I would never consider this issue as one to be decided by referendum. It is too complex an issue for that. It is exactly the sort of issue which requires thoughtful legislation, not the kind of reductive approach required by referenda.

This doesn’t rule it out – for example, if enough MPs are in favour then Street’s bill could be amended to make a referendum a final decision.

Graeme Edgeler responds…

MPs will be faced with the same simplistic, reductive question at the third reading. They get one vote on one question: those who think this bill should become law, say “Aye”, those opposed say “No”. Those who wanted it, but in a different form, covering more or less, or having some different scheme of safeguards will be faced with the same question:

given what the select committee and the committee of the whole house have adopted, do I support the bill in its present form becoming law?

That is no more reductive than a referendum.

…and also explains the ‘reductive approach’:

What’s a “reductive approach” when it’s at home?

A reductive approach to a matter like this is one that is reduced to a simple yes/no question:

e.g. do you support a law change to provide for voluntary euthanasia for adults with terminal illnesses?

Getting public opinion on such a question is largely meaningless in drafting a law which people may actually agree with.

So, should parliament decide on this (should the bill get drawn from the ballot) or should people make the final decision via referendum?

Davison: time to talk (Euthanasia)

Sean Davison has written a  letter to the editor of ODT, repeating that it’s a time to talk, and thinks it’s also time for a law change.

Time to talk about dying

One of the main reasons to publish was to open the public’s eyes to the issues surrounding the deaths of our loved ones and encourage debate on a change in the law. Society is now embracing issues that have previously been uncomfortable to deal with such as sexuality, homosexuality, contraception, Aids, abortion and drug abuse.

These are no longer taboo subjects for dinner table and classroom discussions and this opening up has surely resulted in a better educated and more understanding society.

I believe we are now ready to discuss the complex issues around death and dying. By openly discussing these issues, it also helps prepare us for death and may make us less afraid. Death is something we all must face.

I believe there is public support for a law change and I hope our politicians will take notice. New Zealand has led the world in social and cultural reform. Now I believe we are ready to lead the world in dealing with this complex issue.

The issue of voluntary euthanasia is a challenge to the whole human race and is one of the greatest challenges facing our humanity.

It is a challenge to get the right balance of free choice of how people die while protecting them from pressure to make a decision. It cam be a very emotive topic, but one a modern society should be able to handle sensibly.

Labour MP Maryan Street’s End of Life Choice Bill is still being worked on, and once in the members bill ballot would have to be drawn if it was to be dealt with by Parliament.