Euthanasia in New Zealand
While New Zealand has had two legislative attempts in 1995 and 2003 at legalizing euthanasia, renewed public discussion on the topic began in 2012 when then Labour List MP Maryan Street prepared a private members bill (the “End of Life Choice Bill“). It was subsequently withdrawn from the ballot box prior to the 2014 election campaign to avoid a debate on the issue during an election year.
The revived public interest and debate in New Zealand about the issue of euthanasia and assisted suicide continued with a series of key events, building up to the present push for legislative change with David Seymour’s own End of Life Choice Bill.
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.”.
Petition of Hon Maryan Street and 8,764 others
Following the Seales case ruling, a petition organised by the Voluntary Euthanasia Society (VES) was presented to Parliament by 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”.
Health Select Committee Inquiry into Ending One's Life in NZ
The Health Select Committee then drafted a terms of reference that investigated:
- Factors that contribute to the desire to end one’s life,
- The effectiveness of services and support available to those who desire to end their own lives,
- The attitudes of New Zealanders towards the ending of one’s life and the current legal situation, and
- International experiences.
Health Select Committee release their Report
The Health Select Committee released their report on the VES petition. 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 Bill is introduced to Parliament
While the Health Select Committee inquiry was still in process, Seymour’s Bill was drawn from the private members ballot box on 8 June 2017.
First Reading of Seymour's Bill
On 13 December 2017, David Seymour’s End of Life Choice Bill had its first reading in Parliament. It passed by 76 votes for 44. It was then passed to the Justice Select Committee to conduct a process of public consultation about the Bill.
Justice Select Committee Inquiry
The Justice Select Committee were elected to conduct their public inquiry into Seymour’s Bill, and opened submissions to the public. The deadline for written submissions was originally February 2018 but extended to March 2018. Over 36,000 unique individual written submissions were received. Hearings for oral submissions started in May.
Justice Select Committee Report Due
The Justice Select Committee’s report on the End of Life Choice Bill was extended after a record of over 36,000 submissions were received. The latest date that the Committee can report back to Parliament is 27 March 2019.