The Justice Select Committee has reported back on ACT leader David Seymour's euthanasia bill with minor amendments after it could not reach a consensus.
The select committee said on Monday it had examined Seymour's End of Life Choice Bill - which attracted 38,000 submissions - and said the group was "unable to agree that the bill be passed".
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"We decided to report the bill back with minor, technical, and consequential amendments only. We leave it to the full membership of the House to resolve the broader policy matters," the committee's report said.
Seymour said that was "the right thing to do", adding that it was "pleasing to see the result of the largest consultation in parliamentary history... returned to the House with improvements which strengthen the bill".
Improvements to the bill include:
- Aligning the bill with existing legislation and regulations.
- Strengthening the complaints process by including options for the registrar to refer cases to the police, health and disability commissioner, coroner, or other authority.
- Making it explicit that if coercion is suspected at any point in the process the person becomes ineligible for assisted dying.
- Making it explicit that life insurance contracts must be valid in the case of an assisted death.
The bill aims to give "people with a terminal illness or a grievous and irremediable medical condition the option of requesting assisted dying".
Seymour said MPs will now have the chance to vote for the second time on the bill with minor changes made by the select committee, and for "choice and compassion for New Zealanders who are suffering at the end of their lives".
Justice Minister Andrew Little said earlier on Tuesday that the select committee "couldn't agree on any substantive changes" to the bill - pointing to its controversial nature.
He said it was up to Seymour to "persuade enough numbers in the House to get through to the second reading so he can put a supplementary order paper up making the changes that he thinks might need to be made".
"The passing of this Bill will provide comfort and relief to many New Zealanders who are at the end of life, and who wish to have the option, that they can choose to go surrounded by loved ones in a manner and timing of their choosing," Seymour said.
But Seymour's bill has been widely contentious, with a palliative medicine specialist, Dr Selina Lupati, telling Newshub the risks in the bill - or any legislation around assisted dying - are too great.
It is opposed by a number of organisations assisting the vulnerable, including the New Zealand Disability Rights Commissioner, the New Zealand Medical Association, the Australian and New Zealand Society of Palliative Medicine, and the Salvation Army.
Former Prime Minister Bill English has also come out strong against the bill, warning that making euthanasia legal in New Zealand would be a "slippery slope" and that the descriptions in Seymour's bill don't go far enough.
The bill attracted more submissions from the public than any other Bill in New Zealand history. Two previous attempts at legalised assisted dying - one in 1995, the other in 2003 - both failed at the first reading.
Further changes possible
Seymour said it was likely the bill would come back for second reading on May 22 this year. He also said he will be putting forward further amendments, released in his Sponsor's Report, to be debated in the House.
Those amendments include:
- A provision for a binding referendum on the commencement of the Bill at the General Election.
- Limiting eligibility to terminal illness only.
- For avoidance of doubt, stating that access to assisted dying cannot be by reason of mental health conditions, age, or disability only.
- Expanding the membership of the Support and Consultation for End of Life In NZ Group to include nurses, Māori and Pasifika representatives, and disabled persons representatives.