Politicians shy away from 'risky' euthanasia issue

Lecretia Seales has an inoperable brain tumour and wants the option of asking a doctor to help her die.
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Lecretia Seales has an inoperable brain tumour and wants the option of asking a doctor to help her die.

Politicians are lagging a long way behind public opinion on euthanasia but refuse to debate the issue because of the political risk, says a Green Party MP.

A prominent Wellington lawyer is looking to set a legal precedent by asking the High Court to allow her to die on her own terms.

Lecretia Seales, 41, a public law specialist, is dying of an inoperable brain tumour and is petitioning to uphold her right to die at the time of her choosing

Both the Government and Labour were steering well clear of any policy around the legalisation of euthanasia, but Green Party MP Kevin Hague said their position came down to the issue being too controversial and divisive.

The chances of the Government addressing it were greater if an organisation, such as the Law Commission, led public consultation on euthanasia, he said.

"That would kind of relieve some of the political risk that I know governments are scared of."

This isn't the first time the debate has surfaced.

Former New Zealand First MP Peter Brown, who watched his wife die of cancer, drafted a Death with Dignity Bill in 2003.

It was voted down by 60 votes to 57.

A previous bill in 1995, championed by then-National MP for Hawkes Bay, Michael Laws, failed by 61 votes to 29.

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Former Labour MP Maryan Street proposed and championed the End-of-Life Choice Bill, which was taken over by her Labour colleague, Iain Lees-Galloway, the MP for Palmerston North, when Street failed to return to Parliament.

However, Labour leader Andrew Little told him to drop it as the party had more pressing issues to attend to.

Yesterday, Little said the party's priorities were unchanged but it wasn't up to opposition parties and if public opinion was strong, it was for the Government to respond.

He said the lottery of the members bill ballot wasn't the answer and shouldn't be a catalyst for public debate.

During the election campaign in New Plymouth last year, Little said he heard from a prominent doctor who claimed medical professionals made the decision to increase medication where necessary and in the appropriate situations.

"If we take that at face value, doctors are saying they manage the situation regardless."

However, Little said that didn't provide a solution to the gap in the law.

Deputy Prime Minister Bill English said he had a personal interest in Seales' progress in the High Court but legalising euthanasia was a "notoriously divisive issue" and wasn't a priority for the Government.

While Hague said his Green colleagues would like to see a debate, the party hadn't reached an agreement on a euthanasia policy.

"We haven't worked out how to create a regime that doesn't have the risk of being abused."

 - The Dominion Post

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