Euthanasia debate stirs entrenched divisions

Lecretia Seales (file)
Lecretia Seales (file)

A year on from the death of euthanasia campaigner Lecretia Seales, former Labour MP Maryan Street says it's time for a public debate on the divisive topic.

Ms Seales was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumour in 2011. It killed the 42-year-old in June last year, after she unsuccessfully took her fight to end her own life to the High Court.

The courts ultimately said it was up to Parliament to decide, the ruling coming only hours before Ms Seales died.

Ms Street, now president of the Voluntary Euthanasia Association, says 22,000 submissions have been made on assisted dying.

"I think those numbers demonstrate the public is ready for and participating in this debate," she told Paul Henry this morning.

"The select committee needs to do as it said it would and get out around the country and hear the submitters."

If the 22,000 figure is confirmed, it would surpass the 21,533 submissions made on the Marriage (Definition of Marriage) Amendment Act 2013, which made gay marriage legal.

"The perhaps unique thing about these submitters is they are personal stories," says Ms Street.

"These are not cards that have been pre-printed, signed and dropped in the letterbox. These are personal stories that people have sat down and, in many cases, handwritten."

Ms Street put forward a Bill that would have legalised doctor-assisted euthanasia, but it was withdrawn in 2013 ahead of the 2014 election for fears it could become a political football.

Ms Street says it's disappointing, as she doesn't think it's a "vote-loser".

If Labour MPs don't want to vote for it they don't have to, but "no law is perfect" and it'll never happen if Parliament waits for a Bill that is, she says.

"It will be a conscience vote, and it's individual members of Parliament who will decide this… I think politicians in particular, those who are sympathetic to this but also anxious, are anxious about getting the safeguards right -- and so am I. I hear that concern."

ACT's sole MP David Seymour has taken up the baton for euthanasia, submitting a similar Bill.

A select committee is expected to travel the country seeking opinions from August.