Assisted dying: Politicians draw on their own consciences

All members of Parliament will soon make an important decision on euthanasia, but rather than voting together as parties, most will be making a decision based on their own conscience.

The End of Life Choice Bill argues some people are currently suffering unbearably at the end of their lives. 

Several politicians expressed serious concerns about the legislation on Tuesday. Others, including the Prime Minister, said as long as there are safeguards, they will give it their support.

The Bill allows adults suffering from a terminal or irremediable illness to ask for a medically assisted death.

Written by sole ACT member David Seymour, the Bill could come before Parliament tomorrow, depending on how quickly other bills are debated first. Mr Seymour believes if it comes up, he has the numbers to get the Bill through its first reading.

Under the legislation, doctors would be required to ensure the person requesting to die makes the decision free of pressure from any other person. Medical professionals would be permitted to conscientiously object to the request, but they would need to find a replacement practitioner.

National Party leader Bill English says the Bill couldn't be much worse.

"I oppose this Bill," he said. "It's a very bad piece of legislation."

He's backed by Maggie Barry, who called it a "licence to kill".

"It has no protections and provisions for the disabled, the elderly or the vulnerable," she said.

Meanwhile, National deputy leader Paula Bennett said she knew how she'd vote, but she wouldn't be making her decision public until the day of the vote.

New Zealand First will only back the End of Life Choice Bill in the first reading if a referendum goes ahead too. Winston Peters says such decisions should be made by all New Zealanders, not "temporarily empowered" politicians.

The discussion comes after Australia's state of Victoria voted to allow voluntary-assisted dying. It will become legal in 2019.

Maryan Street from End of Life Choice Society - and formerly a Labour MP - says that move should provide some comfort for our politicians.

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