David Seymour hits back at National MP seeking 'protections' for institutions over euthanasia

David Seymour, whose proposed assisted dying law is going through Parliament, has hit back at a National MP asking for institutions like hospices to have the right to conscientiously object. 

Seymour, leader of the ACT Party, responded by saying his End of Life Choice Bill "doesn't require any organisation to do anything other than the Ministry of Health". 

"You can't really be exempted from something you're not required to do in the first place, but that seems to be what they're asking for," he told Newshub. 

But National's Michael Woodhouse, who proposed the amendment, said he didn't understand why Seymour would object when Seymour himself proposed specific protections for health practitioners. 

"His argument against my amendment is inconsistent with his own amendment," Woodhouse told Newshub. 

Woodhouse has tabled his amendment to provide protection for organisations that have a conscientious objection to assisted dying being practised in their facilities.

It comes off the back of Seymour's own amendments, which included protection for health professionals who have a conscientious objection to euthanasia.  

Seymour explained how the amendment he added was necessary, so that it was clear that medical professionals would not be forced to go along with euthanasia if they did not want to.

He said Woodhouse's amendment wasn't needed because there was never any mention in the legislation about institutions to begin with. 

Seymour told Newshub: "The opponents have promised to put up hundreds of amendments to try and stall and frustrate the Bill and this is another one of those."

David Seymour is the End of Life Choice Bill's sponsor.
David Seymour is the End of Life Choice Bill's sponsor. Photo credit: Getty

But Woodhouse said some organisations offering aged care, long-term hospital-level care, dementia care and palliative care were established by groups whose ethos is grounded in beliefs that are opposed to euthanasia. 

"They may be faith-based or have a mission of care that recognises that dying is a natural part of life and that, while good care at the end of life is important, death should not be hastened."

Woodhouse is pointing to concerns raised by some professionals in hospices and palliative care, who told the Justice Select Committee that, assisted dying goes against their beliefs. 

The committee's report said it heard from palliative care professionals "who believe that assisted dying is in conflict with the basic principle of palliative care, which is to 'neither hasten nor postpone death'."

It also heard from hospice workers who said it would "detrimentally affect their relationship with patients and families and did not believe it would be compatible with their work to provide euthanasia at a hospice". 

Woodhouse said there is a concern that institutions might feel pressured into allowing health professionals to enter their facilities to provide euthanasia, and that Government funding cold be conditional upon it. 

National's Michael Woodhouse has proposed the amendment to the legislation.
National's Michael Woodhouse has proposed the amendment to the legislation. Photo credit: Newshub

"I think they should be able to practice those beliefs without the fear that the state could remove funding from them if they don't provide assisted dying."

While Seymour doubts institutions will be forced to do anything, Woodhouse said there could be court challenges over refusals to allow doctors to perform euthanasia in facilities that object. 

"I don't think we want to go down that path."

Seymour said in Canada, where euthanasia was legalised in 2016, people that want assisted dying generally don't go to hospices that they know are opposed. 

"I think there is a problem which is that the hospices and many of their patients are going to want different things," he said. 

"But that's not a legal problem, they can say they don't support the service on their property, they're entitled to do that."

What's next with euthanasia law?

In the end, the Justice Select Committee reported back on the Bill with minor, technical amendments, leaving it to the full membership of the House to resolve the broader policy matters. 

That was despite more than 35,000 submissions from the public. However, the committee did say the conscientious objection clause was "not clear enough". 

Seymour's Bill passed its second reading in Parliament in June, with 70 votes against 50. 

The Bill is now being debated by the Committee of the Whole House in Parliament. It passed the first stage of that earlier this month, with 74 votes to 44. 

The next stage will be debated next week, and Seymour said it's "fairly reasonable to assume" that part two will go "roughly the same". 

"We're looking at going through to October, and then a third reading in November," Seymour said. 

"Michael's amendment will be one of dozens, potentially, if the opponents live up to their threats - potentially hundreds of amendments that will have to be voted on.

"It will take a huge amount of Parliament's time."