Assisted dying: 'Fear, uncertainty and doubt' campaign ahead - Seymour

The MP behind a Bill that would legalise assisted dying expects opponents to ramp up their campaign of "fear, uncertainty and doubt" now it's close to becoming law.

ACT leader David Seymour's End of Life Choice Bill passed its first reading in Parliament last night, with a 76-44 majority.

The Bill allows adults suffering from a terminal or grievous illness, or in an advanced state of irreversible decline, to ask for a medically assisted death. They have to be of sound mind to give consent without coercion, and two doctors (one completely independent from the patient) need to sign off on it.

Similar Bills that have been before Parliament in the past have failed, but even socially conservative NZ First is backing Mr Seymour's version - on the condition the Bill eventually goes to a public referendum.

Mr Seymour has never been a fan of NZ First leader Winston Peters, even going so far as to call him a "terrible guy" and a racist. But on this issue he says Mr Peters has got it right, and former coalition partner/Prime Minister Bill English hasn't.

"Politics is a funny old business," Mr Seymour told The AM Show on Thursday morning.

"I have enormous respect for Bill English... on this issue I think he's frankly just wrong and on the wrong side of the issue. Winston Peters, I have a number of criticisms I won't repeat now in the spirit of Christmas."

Bill English
Bill English. Photo credit: Your Sunday/RadioLIVE

Asked by AM Show host Duncan Garner if it was the beginning of an unlikely "bromance", Mr Seymour chuckled.

"I don't know which of our reputations that would damage the most."

Mr Seymour says if the Bill makes it through Parliament, the referendum would likely be held at the same time as the next General Election.

"One challenge is that in order for that to happen, there's now effectively two votes in Parliament - one to pass the law as usual, and another to decide whether it becomes a referendum. Winston Peters has nine votes, I have one vote - together we're going to have to make sure we have enough votes in Parliament to actually pass that addition to the law."

Despite Mr Seymour's assurance the Bill has protections for the vulnerable, he expects the hardcore opposed - which he estimates as around 15 percent of the population - to say "all sorts of things that simply aren't true".

"We heard some of it last night even from Members of Parliament who should frankly know better and try to debate more honestly."

Which way to vote on the End of Life Choice Bill is up to each individual MP. While National MPs Mr English and Simon O'Connor opposed it, Chris Bishop gave it his tick of approval.

"Legalising end-of-life choice is supported by the values of a civilised and decent society, rather than contradicting them. It upholds human dignity, the ability to end your life at a time and manner of your choosing rather than in cruel and intolerable conditions."

Tracey Martin
Tracey Martin. Photo credit: The Nation

NZ First is happy to vote en masse in favour if the ultimate choice rests with the public.

"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," said NZ First MP Tracey Martin.

Mr Seymour sacrificed the chance to be a minister in the previous Government to keep the Bill alive.

"Turning down being a minister allowed me to put this issue on the agenda at a time when no one else would, and tonight's the payoff for people who want choice," he said.

The next stage of the bill is it goes to a select committee - a cross section of MP's consider public feedback, and make recommendations towards its second reading.

Mr Seymour has sought an extended nine-month period for the select committee process, rather than the usual six.

What MPs said during the debate

  • "A blanket prohibition against taking the life of another is at the core of our law. We would be creating an exemption from the criminal law of killing" - Opposition leader Bill English
  • "We're talking about the state-sanctioned killing of New Zealanders" - National's Simon O'Connor
  • "The idea that there will be doctors out there with a licence to kill is very far from what we are discussing" - the Greens' Julie Anne Genter
  • "One person's autonomy will be another's death sentence" - National's Maggie Barry
  • "This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to change the status quo - we have an opportunity to create a more compassionate society, legalising assisted dying is the morally correct thing to do" - National's Chris Bishop
  • "Not a single one of us is smarter than the people who put us here. This issue should go to them" - NZ First's Tracey Martin