Euthanasia in New Zealand
The debate over euthanasia and assisted suicide in New Zealand has been active over the last few years and into the present following several events that have revived public interest and debate.
Then Labour List MP Maryan Street prepared a Private Members Bill, the “End of Life Choice Bill”. However, it was subsequently withdrawn from the ballot box prior to the 2014 election campaign as the Labour Leadership did not want it debated during an election year.
Wellington lawyer Lecretia Seales, who was suffering from terminal brain cancer, sought a ruling from the High Court that “assisted dying” was not unlawful under the Crimes Act, and that a ban on “assisted dying” contravened her human rights under the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990. The Court ruled that any assistance, whether in the form of assisted suicide or euthanasia by her doctor, would be unlawful and that the relevant provisions of the Crimes Act 1961 were consistent with the rights and freedoms contained in the Bill of Rights Act. It further suggested that changes to the law sought by Ms Seales could only be made by Parliament. Justice Collins referred specifically to the complexity and broad nature of the issues that are implicated in changing the law, stating that: “The complex legal, philosophical, moral and clinical issues raised by Ms Seales’ proceedings can only be addressed by Parliament passing legislation to amend the effect of the Crimes Act.”.
Following this ruling, a petition organised by the Voluntary Euthanasia Society (VES) was presented to Parliament by former MP and VES President Maryan Street and Matt Vickers, the husband of Lecretia Seales. It asked that the House of Representatives investigate public attitudes towards the introduction of legislation permitting “medically-assisted dying”. The Select Committee investigated 1) factors that contribute to the desire to end one’s life, 2) the effectiveness of services and support available to those who desire to end their own lives, 3) the attitudes of New Zealanders towards the ending of one’s life and the current legal situation, and 4) international experiences.
ACT Party Leader and MP David Seymour submitted his own “End of Life Choice Bill“.
While this Select Committee inquiry was still in process, Seymour’s Bill was drawn from the private members ballot box on 8 June 2017. It currently awaits its first reading, which will likely occur in early 2018.
The Health Select Committee have released their report on the VES petition. The submission process received over 21,000 unique submissions from around the country between 27 August 2015 and 1 February 2016, and heard 944 oral submissions (read the submissions here). 80% of the submissions were opposed to the legalisation of euthanasia and assisted suicide in New Zealand. The Report echoed Justice Collins’ observation that the issue “is clearly very complicated, very divisive, and extremely contentious”, but made no clear recommendations about legislation on euthanasia or assisted suicide in New Zealand, stating that it was a usually a matter of a conscience vote. Instead, the Report encouraged “everyone with an interest in the subject to read the report in full, and to draw their own conclusions based on the evidence presented in it”.
Seymour’s End of Life Choice Bill waits its first reading.