Euthanasia law critics gather for final push

David Seymour's End of Life Choice Bill will have its third reading in the House on Wednesday....
David Seymour's End of Life Choice Bill will have its third reading in the House on Wednesday. Photo: ODT files
Palliative care workers have joined last-minute pleas against a voluntary euthanasia bill as politicians look likely to pass the legislation at its final vote in Parliament.

David Seymour’s fiercely debated End of Life Choice Bill will have its third reading in the House on Wednesday.

The legislation - which would let terminally ill adults with less than six months left to live access assisted dying - will go a public referendum at next year’s general election if it passes the vote.

Having cleared its second reading 70 votes to 50 in June, and with Seymour having made a number of changes to the bill since to secure backing, only a handful of MPs are expected to change sides, suggesting it is expected to comfortably clear the 60 votes needed on Wednesday.

On Tuesday, MPs opposing the bill, including Labour’s Meka Whaitiri and National Party member Chris Penk, brought representatives from the hospice and palliative care industries to the Beehive to make a last-minute plea against the bill.

Palliative Care Nurses of New Zealand Aileen Collier told the audience that despite consciousness objection clauses in the bill, the legislation would leave “nurses in the thick” of the process.

“Us nurses will be involved. We’ll be involved in the multiple conversations as people decide. We will be involved in responding to their concerns and their symptoms as they await their appointments. We’ll be involved when, after their appointment, they don’t meet the criteria and are turned down,” she said.

“And we’ll be involved in the mess of conflict between patients and family when there are differences of opinion.”

The conference also heard from Hospice New Zealand and the Australia & New Zealand Society of Palliative Medicine, in what is one of series of attempts by opponents to sway support in the final days ahead of the vote.

A group of doctors opposing the legislation, Doctors Say No, on Sunday announced its open letter to MPs had received its 1500th signature.

Euthanasia-Free NZ on Monday released a Curia poll it says shows the public are confused about what the bill actually contains and that a referendum next year would not reflect true public sentiment.

And a protest is also expected on Parliament’s lawn ahead of the vote on Wednesday.

Seymour, meanwhile, has been doing his own lobbying among MPs in hopes for securing a few more votes.

“But we’re not making any predictions and we’re not taking anyone for granted,” he said.

He said after nearly two years of debate on the bill - it had its first reading in late 2017 and underwent a lengthy Select Committee Process that received a record 39,000 submissions - there were few issues that had not already been raised and discussed.

He said public opinion had not been swayed by opposition, with polling in July showing there was 72% support for some kind of assisted dying for the terminally ill.

“There are some nurses that are distressed by the fact their country has changed the laws, but that’s more a reflection on the personal views of those individuals than a system-wide problem,” Seymour said.

Votes on the bill have been carried out on conscience, meaning MPs will on Wednesday vote individually, rather than along party lines.

All members of the Green Party and NZ First are supporting the bill, while Labour and National MPs are split.

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