The right to choose to end our lives is back on the political agenda with Maryan Street’s private member’s bill on euthanasia going into the ballot. If it’s drawn, it will be the third time in 17 years such a Bill has come up. The first one was voted down 2 to 1, the next lost by 3 votes. This time, success seems highly likely.
Euthanasia is a perennial topic of member’s bills. In 1995, then-National MP Michael Laws proposed the Death With Dignity Bill. It was voted down 61 to 29. In 2003, NZ First’s Peter Brown had another go, losing 60 – 57. The bill was in the ballot again for the subsequent Parliamentary term, but was never drawn. And now the issue is back for another go, this time led by Labour’s Maryan Street:
Labour list MP Maryan Street, who is working on a private member’s bill that would legalise some end-of-life options, told TV ONE’s Breakfast that the public attitude about euthanasia has changed.[…]
Street said her bill was “about autonomy, it’s about dignity and most of all it’s about compassion”.
“More and more people are looking to have the kind of control at the end of their life that they like to have during their life,” she said.
There’s more details about the bill here.
As I’ve said before, I support death with dignity. It is a matter of fundamental personal autonomy. Our lives belong to us, not to some imaginary sky fairy. We should not have to starve ourselves to death if we wish to end them, or have to ask our friends to risk prosecution if we are incapable even of that. The law should provide for it (with appropriate safeguards, of course).
This is also I think an issue which could succeed this term. The margin of defeat has been narrowing over the years, as religious people have died off and social acceptance of euthanasia has grown. And with a strong generational shift in National, I think support will have increased enough to get it over the line. The question now is whether it will be drawn from the ballot…
And here’s Maryan Street –
End of Life Choice bill (TVNZ Breakfast Show video from today)
I am preparing a bill which I am calling “End of Life Choice”. It arose out of a meeting in Nelson last year with a group of people who all want to be able to exercise the same control over the end of their lives as they are enjoying during their lives. It is as much about human rights as it is about dignity, autonomy and compassion.
Three levels of protection are necessary:
1 – for the patient or person themselves – from family who would either exploit them or overturn their wishes in extremis, and from insurance companies or anyone else who might exploit them;
2 – for any attending physicians, and there would need to be 2 – from any coercion to breach their own ethics or criminal liability if all procedures were observed;
3 – for any family members who assist in the final moments – from criminal liability.
The first time this was voted on was 1995 (Michael Laws’ bill), it was defeated 61-29. The second time, in 2003 (Peter Brown’s bill), it was defeated 60-57 and of the three who made the difference, two did not vote (John Tamihere and Heather Roy) and one abstained (Dail Jones). It will always be a conscience vote.
I think the time has come for this question to be revisited. I think the social conversation needs to happen again. I think the numbers would be different this time.
Am I right?