Assisted dying Bill passes first reading in New Zealand Parliament

A Bill on legalising euthanasia has passed its first reading after gaining majority support in Parliament through a conscience vote.

Seventy-six MPs voted in favour and 44 voted against.

It will now pass to the justice select committee and be open to public submissions.

ACT MP David Seymour's End of Life Choices Bill seeks to give people those suffering a terminal illness or a grievous or incurable medical condition the option to request medically assisted death.

New Zealand First has supported the bill under the provision that a nationwide referendum is held on the issue.

NZ First MP Tracey Martin said: "Not a single one of us is smarter than the people who placed us here, not a single one of us has more of a conscience or less of a conscience than the people who voted us here. This issue should go to them, this is too big an issue for this House to decide."

National leader Bill English opposed the Bill, saying it's not creating a medical procedure but "an exemption from the criminal law against killing for a certain group".

"I don't think anyone can in their heart of hearts believe that this bill will make life safer for the disabled, that it'll make our community more warmly embracing of our aging population. Who pretends that?"

Green MP Julie Anne Genter supported the Bill, but wants to see it amended to ensure there was no risk of abuse particularly for those with disabilities and other vulnerable people.

"It isn't about suicide - it's about what happens when somebody is already very close to death," she said.

National MP Nuk Korako opposed the Bill and said: "Euthanasia is foreign to Māori and no place in our society. In all my life raised as a Ngai Tahu Māori I've never heard or known of a Māori concept that validates assisting dying."

Under the End of Life Choice Bill, a person wishing to end their own life must meet all of the following criteria:

  • be 18 or older
  • suffer from a terminal or grievous and irremediable illness
  • or be in an advanced state of irreversible decline
  • be in unbearable pain that can't be helped by medication
  • be of sound mind to give consent.

If those criteria are met, the applicant must be assessed by two doctors.

Assisted dying has been debated twice before in the New Zealand Parliament, in 1995 and 2003. It was defeated at the first reading in both instances.