OPINION: Submissions on the End of Life Choice Bill closed last week and over 25,000 interest groups and individuals wrote in to express support for and opposition to the Bill. I believe this is a record in the history of our Parliament.
I expect the majority of submitters will oppose the Bill, public opinion is not opposed (in scientific surveys, 75 percent of New Zealanders consistently say they want choice) but it’s precisely the issues where most people agree that you should expect a strong response from the minority making submissions.
New Zealand's last two conscience issues are case in point. 83 percent of submissions on civil unions were opposed, 13 percent in favour, yet a Herald Digipoll at the time showed New Zealanders supported civil unions 56 percent to 39 percent. Similarly, 48 percent of submissions on gay marriage were supportive, 37 percent in opposed, while a TVNZ-Colmar Brunton poll showed New Zealanders were in favour by the larger margin of 63 percent to 31 percent.
Why the disconnect? Amongst the many submissions by people who have expressed genuine opinions on their own steam, will be thousands submitted by people who've had the fear of God put into them. Anti-assisted dying lobby groups have run co-ordinated "Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt" campaigns spouting mistruths about the Bill and handing out pro-forma submissions.
Last month it was reported a Hamilton Church was urging parishioners to complete submission forms handed out after services which claimed people with gluten intolerances and asthma would be euthanised under this Bill. I've heard many similar stories of fear mongering. No doubt the people behind these efforts will claim the sheer weight of numbers proves something other than the fact that if you badger people to do something enough, many of them will do it.
Nevertheless, the numbers themselves don't tell us much. There will be, perhaps, 15,000 submissions against the bill out of 4.7 million New Zealanders, about 0.3 percent. If politicians want to know what New Zealanders think on this issue, scientific surveys by polling companies that predicted last year’s election to within a percent tell us 75 percent of New Zealanders are in favour of choice, while fewer than 20 percent oppose it.
What I do hope for is that among the substantial submissions, both for and against, will be suggestions that provide the committee with genuine new ideas that allow them to improve the Bill. That is our parliamentary democracy at its best.
David Seymour is leader of the ACT party and MP for Epsom.