Euthanasia debate back on the political agenda

Lecretia Seales, whose lost her bid for the right to have a doctor assist her death.

Lecretia Seales, whose lost her bid for the right to have a doctor assist her death.

The right-to-die debate is poised to be thrust back on the political agenda as support mounts for a parliamentary inquiry.

More than a decade after Parliament was divided by a vote on voluntary euthanasia, there is cross-party support that the public deserves a fresh debate through a select committee inquiry.

It follows the death on Friday from natural causes of Wellington lawyer Lecretia Seales on the same day that it was made public she had lost her bid for the courts to rule in favour of assisted suicide.

The euthanasia debate is heading back to Parliament.
Ross Giblin

The euthanasia debate is heading back to Parliament.

A petition due to be presented to Parliament could be the catalyst for a fresh debate on voluntary euthanasia - but the Government is refusing to say whether it would back a wide ranging inquiry.

ACT leader David Seymour has confirmed he is drafting a member's bill calling for a debate on euthanaisa and will urge the Government to adopt the bill.

Seymour said the public view had changed over recent years and polls suggested most Kiwis were in favour of choice.

"Since 1995 and 2003 the world has changed quite dramatically and I believe that it's time for Parliament to actually debate this issues."

"This is something that has to be done right - certainly the public opinion is overwhelmingly in favour according to all the polling."

Prime Minister John Key said assisted suicide was a conscience issue and would be best dealt with through a member's bill.

"In the past I have personally voted for euthanasia, as I do have some sympathy for that argument."

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But the National caucus may be forced to debate the issue anyway - MP Judith Collins has confirmed she will raise the issue with her colleagues.

Parliament has previously voted down members' bills seeking to legalise euthanasia, including that of former New Zealand First MP Peter Brown, who watched his wife die of cancer and drafted a Death with Dignity Bill in 2003.

A previous bill in 1995, championed by then-National MP for Hawke's Bay Michael Laws, failed.

During the last parliamentary term, 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, when she failed to make back into Parliament. But Labour leader Andrew Little told him to drop it as the party had more pressing issues to attend to.

However, Lees-Galloway said on Friday the End of Life Choice Society petition will be tabled at the first opportunity in Parliament and will go straight to a select committee.

Little said a member's bill was not the right way to debate such an important issue.

"The problem with the members bill process is it's a lottery and….then it becomes party political and that's certainly the way it was heading till now.  I think the tragedy of Lecretia Seales is that she's brought it well into the public spotlight. The judge has made it clear - I think correctly - that the courts won't do what Parliament won't and he's kicked it back to Parliament. That's the right thing to do and I think now is the time for Parliament to inquire into it. But the only way that's going to happen is if the Government agrees to it being considered by the select committee."

Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei said the party supported a select committee inquiry, which could make recommendations to Parliament. 

"It would be a better way to do it rather than rely on one individual party's a much better message for us to send to the community, that Parliament is making a response."

UnitedFuture leader Peter Dunne said it was time for a wider debate in the community about advanced care planning.

"Any legislative change should flow from that."

But it needed to be broader than a debate solely about euthanasia.

"If it's about euthanasia I don't think it will succeed; if it's a broader debate I think we can actually test where the norms of society are."

That included issues like palliative care and the right to exercise individual choice over treatment

The Maori Party said it did not have a formal position on euthanasia but was open to a debate.

Party co-leader Marama Fox said her personal view was that assisted suicide legislation wasn't needed.

NZ First leader Winston Peters supports a referendum on the matter and says it's not for MPs to be making the decision.

"My personal view is that I'm happy to live with the public view after a properly funded and reasonable debate to decide."

 - Stuff

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