Parliament passes euthanasia bill in night of emotionally charged speeches; now it's up to voters

Anna Whyte
Source: 1News

Euthanasia legalisation has passed its final hurdle in Parliament - moving the decision out of the hands of parliamentarians and into the public. 

A referendum will now be held at next year’s election, after MPs voted 69-51 in favour of the third reading of the End of Life Choice Bill.

If passed, a person would be eligible for euthanasia if they suffer from a terminal illness and are likely to die within six months, if they are in an advanced state of irreversible physical decline and are also experiencing unbearable suffering that cannot be relieved. They also need to be competent to make an informed decision.  

A person cannot be eligible for euthanasia for the only reason being of an old age, having a disability or having a mental illness or disorder.  

In an emotionally charged evening at Parliament, some MPs shared personal stories that influenced or led them to decide to vote for or against the bill. 

ACT’s David Seymour, who authored the bill, opened the speeches, telling the House it was exactly 23 months since Parliament first debated the topic. 

"Some of the arguments have been frankly disgraceful," he said. 

Mr Seymour spoke of his mother being one of the last people in New Zealand to contract polio. 

"Like many with a disability, she fought all her life to assert that her disability did not diminish her as a self-determining person in every other respect. 

"The underlying premise of some opponents is that people with a disability are somehow vulnerable to the mere existence of choice. It's an argument that I have found deeply and personally distasteful."

National’s Shane Reti told Parliament as a practising doctor he was the only person "permissioned to euthanise New Zealanders". 

“If this bill passes, I cannot imagine the spectre of euthanasia, ever-present, looming over every single consultation, there but not there, present but unspoken until it is dared to be given light. This bill dims the privilege of care.”

National MP Harete Hipango wore black, telling Parliament she would bypass niceties and called it a "kill bill". 

National MP Nikki Kaye said the legalisation was about compassionate justice and fairness and called it the most restrictive of its kind in the world.

"This is about a very small group of people who make a conscious choice, who are competent to end their life a little bit earlier. We can do better as a nation… We need to pass this bill."

Labour’s Adrian Rurawhe said he could not vote for the bill as it would add disparities for Māori, Pasifika, and for ethnic minorities. 

"It will disadvantage Māori further in a system which already disadvantages Māori," he said.

If the public votes "yes" to legalise euthanasia, the End of Life Choice law will come into force 12 months after the official results are released. If it is voted down by the public, the bill will be repealed.

Earlier today, hundreds of people gathered outside Parliament to urge MPs to vote against the final reading. 

The provision for a referendum was added just weeks ago. It was a bottom line for New Zealand First MPs, who voted in favour of the second reading but threatened to pull any further support if one was not held. A referendum on legalising cannabis will also be held at the election.

It has been a long process of MPs working through proposed changes, occasionally staying until 1am to comb through the finer details of the bill. In that time the scope of the bill was narrowed to allow people with a terminal illness with less than six months to live. 

Earlier this year, Mr Seymour said some supporters may be disappointed his amendments would create "one of the most conservative assisted dying regimes in the world, but I have listened to concerns from supporters and opponents”.

The bill passed the first time in 2017 by 76-44, and the second 70-50 in June this year.

In July, a 1 NEWS Colmar Brunton Poll found 72 per cent of people were in favour of legalising euthanasia for those with a terminal illness or who were incurably ill. Twenty per cent were against.

A 2018 1 NEWS Colmar Brunton Poll found 76 per cent agreed with making euthanasia available, with 15 per cent against.

In 2017, a poll had 74 per cent "yes" and 18 per cent "no", and a 2015 poll had 75 per cent 'yes" and 21 per cent "no". Another poll in 2003 found 73 per cent were in favour passing a euthanasia bill into law.