On 26 June 2019 the End of Life Choices Bill passed a second reading in the New Zealand House of Representatives. As bills are rarely rejected at this stage, this might be very good news for terminally ill citizens and permanents residents in New Zealand.
What is the bill about?
This bill seeks to establish a legal process that allows the opportunity for people to request medically assisted dying. In order for a person to be eligible to request assisted dying, the bill proposes the person would have to:
- be 18 years or over
- have New Zealand citizenship or permanent residency
- suffer from a terminal illness likely to end their life within six months or have a grievous and irremediable medical condition
- be in an advanced state of irreversible decline in capacity
- experience unbearable suffering that cannot be relieved in a manner that they consider tolerable
- have the ability to understand the nature and consequences of assisted dying
The bill proposes all requests for assisted dying would have to be considered by two medical practitioners, including one independent medical practitioner referred by a Ministry of Health end of life consultation group. (source: website of the New Zealand Parliament)
History of the bill
On 8 June 2017 David Seymour introduced a new End of Life Choices Bill (269-1) to Parliament. The bill passed its first reading on 13 December 2017, with 76 votes in favour, 44 opposed. Then it was referred to the Justice Committee, which prepared a report on the bill for the House in April 2019. A new version of the End of Life Choices Bill (269-2) was brought to vote for a second reading. On 26 June 2019 the bill passed this second reading by 70 votes to 50. It appeared that twelve MPs changed their votes between the first and second reading.
What is next?
The next debate will be the committee stages, at which many amendments will be proposed, before a final vote is taken on the third reading. If the bill also passes the third reading, and bills are rarely rejected at this stage (source), then only royal assent is needed to make the bill an act of Parliament, which gives it the status of a law.
Lobby and opponents
From the beginning, the bill is strongly opposed by the New Zealand Medical Association, by disability groups and Aged Concern. On the other hand there is the Right to Die organisation (and member of the World Federation) in New Zealand: the End-Of-Life Choice Society of New Zealand Inc (EOLC). With people like Maryane Street and David Seymour, this organisation fought hard to let this bill pass all the readings so far. On 27 June the President of EOLC Society, Dr Mary Panko, thanked all the members and supporters who putted an enormous effort to this case and announced to stay sharp till the end, in order to overcome the last barriers in the next few months.