Final submissions for inquiry into assisted dying


It's the final day for submissions on the Health Select Committee's inquiry into assisted dying.

The inquiry was launched in response to a petition of 9000 signatures asking for a change to existing law and follows the death of Wellington lawyer Lecretia Seales, who lost her court battle for the right to an assisted death last year.

Her widower, Matt Vickers, is continuing her fight.

"I'm hoping that the committee will come back with a recommendation to change the law and to allow for assisted dying," he says. "What happens at that point though is really uncertain."

ACT leader David Seymour has also waded into the debate, entering a Bill into the ballot to legalise assisted dying, though it could be many years before it is drawn.

He says the issue is something Parliament needs to look at sooner rather than later.

"Legally, the High Court has said 'We can't change this, only Parliament can', democratically two-thirds, three-quarters of New Zealanders want assisted dying to be legalised and I just think when you get a majority like that we politicians should take some notice," Mr Seymour told the Paul Henry programme this morning.

The Health Select Committee is undertaking an investigation into public attitudes towards legislation, which would permit medically assisted dying in the event of a terminal illness or an irreversible condition that makes life unbearable.

It will include:

Assisted dying is currently legal in the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Germany and some US states, while voluntary euthanasia is legal in Belgium.

Mr Seymour says one place that compares with New Zealand is the US state of Oregon.

"They're physically closest to us, culturally closest to us, they've had an assisted dying law since 1998 and [in] 2014, which is the last year we've got numbers [for], about 30,000 people died in Oregon and 105 of them had an assisted death and that's a mature system, that's after almost 20 years."

But opposition group Care Alliance is concerned that such laws are misused and people will be wrongly killed.

"We see a whole raft of problems," says spokesman Matthew Jansen. "The scope is always increasing, the numbers of deaths are always increasing, and the safeguards don't work as advertised."

But Mr Vickers says the "objections are not against assisted dying, but against the law being misused", and says "we have overseas experience to draw on to ensure good safeguards".

More than 5000 public submissions have already been counted, with many more coming in in the final days.

Mr Vickers hopes a Government Bill will be put forward if there's enough public interest.