David Seymour surprised by extent of support for End of Life Choice Bill

The sponsor of the End of Life Choice Bill, David Seymour, says he was surprised by the number of votes received in favour of it on Wednesday.

On Wednesday, the End of Life Choice Bill, which would legalise euthanasia for patients suffering at the end of their lives, passed its second reading after months of heated debate and thousands of public submissions on the Bill.

It received 70 votes for and 50 against in the conscience vote - where politicians don't have to vote along party lines - something Seymour said was surprising. 

"I thought it might be 65 or 67, it turned out 70 MPs voted for it, and I suspect the reason is that the anti-campaign has been so fissiparous, even MPs that are in favour may have been keeping their head down," he told The AM Show on Thursday.

"We had a few people, like Judith Collins, who changed their minds and have decided that in fact they are in favour, and I really respect them doing that."

Seymour said it showed Kiwi politicians are open to listening to being flexible.

"Lots of people keep dogmatic positions but MPs are actually changing their mind on this."

David Seymour.
David Seymour. Photo credit: The AM Show.

Matt Vickers has been campaigning for the legislation since 2015, when his wife Lecretia Seales succumbed to a brain tumour just hours after a judge ruled anyone who helped her die prematurely could face manslaughter or murder charges. 

"The culmination of all that effort and it's just so good to see the work continue and we will get a full debate about the End of Life Choice Bill," he told Newshub.

He also said he would like to see politicians continue in a constructive fashion.

Matt Vickers.
Matt Vickers. Photo credit: The AM Show.

Parliament was divided on Wednesday with emotional speeches from politicians on both sides of the issue, many of whom had watched their parents die slowly and painfully.

Collins teared up while describing her father's "terrible pain" before he died of bone cancer 25 years ago. She said she used to oppose assisted dying but now believes giving people the choice to die with dignity is the right thing to do.

"I am on the right side now - everybody deserves some dignity in their lives. I would do it again, it's the right thing to do, and it preserved his dignity."

But National MP Maggie Barry strongly opposes assisted dying, calling the Bill the most poorly drafted she'd ever seen.

"When Parliament threw out the death penalty some 60 years ago, one of the most persuasive arguments against it was the fear that an innocent life might be taken. That same level of seriousness needs to be at the heart of our decision tonight."

Seymour said he had been expecting some strong opposition in the debating chamber. 

"Nobody was saying anything we didn't expect them to say. The MPs have been lobbied really hard, they have listened to a lot of people. So their positions were already pretty established."

The Bill will now move to the House where major amendments will be proposed and debated, before it faces its third and final reading

It is expected to be amended to only support assisted dying for those who have a terminal illness that will end the person's life within six months. 

To get the support of New Zealand First MPs, Seymour also had to promise that a referendum would be held on the issue. 

"That's the deal or handshake I have got with Winston [Peters], and so far he has been really true to that and we have been working hard in making sure there is a referendum."

Newshub's political editor Tova O'Brien told The AM Show that these sorts of conscience votes show a different side of Parliament.

"I think with these conscience votes when they go through the house, you see a really different side of the Parliament," she said.

"You strip all of the partisan politics, you strip out the party politics, and MPs are just speaking on their conscience, they are drawing on their own experience, they have spoken to their electorates. They have been lobbied hard as well throughout the select committee process."

But she said there is still a long process ahead before the Bill becomes an Act.

"[Seymour] recognises there is a very long process to come yet. Already, the select committee process was 16 months long… it's the next step in the process, what is called the committee of the whole house, where all the MPs pile in with any amendments, that's going to see any of the changes to the Bill."

The Bill passed in its first reading 76 votes to 44, while a Newshub poll last year found 71 percent of Kiwis were in favour of it.