MPs to vote on euthanasia after bill places the issue back in front of Parliament video

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Parliament to debate a bill that would allow voluntary euthanasia.

MPs will be forced to vote on whether or not euthanasia should be legal, after the End of Life Choice bill was drawn from Parliament's ballot. 

A bill to legalise the use of medicinal cannabis if prescribed by a medical practitioner, was also pulled for debate. 

The euthanasia bill, by ACT leader David Seymour, has laid dormant in the House's infamous biscuit tin since 2015. Since then, the Government has batted away a number of calls to put the issue on its own work programme. 

ACT leader David Seymour has brought his End of Life Choice bill before Parliament.
MARION VAN DIJK / FAIRFAX NZ

ACT leader David Seymour has brought his End of Life Choice bill before Parliament.

Early last year, former Prime Minister John Key announced a Parliamentary inquiry into euthanasia, by the Health Select Committee. However, the committee is yet to report back on its deliberations, and its recommendations would be non-binding. 

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Key went so far as to confirm at the outset, that the findings of the committee would not lead to the Government adopting the issue.

While euthanasia would be a conscience vote - meaning MPs would vote individually, rather than along part lines - it was a political landmine both Key and Opposition leader Andrew Little had gone to lengths in the past to avoid. 

Now the bill has been drawn from ballot box, it was out of the Government's hands. 

Seymour said he was delighted, and the campaign started immediately. 

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"This is morally, democratically and legally the right thing for Parliament to do. It is morally right to give people choices over suffering at the end of their life. 

"It is democratically right for Parliament to do something that three quarters of New Zealanders and scientific surveys repeatedly say they would like Parliament to act on. 

"And it is legally right, because in the Lecretia Seales case the Court said only Parliament can make this change that so many New Zealanders want," Seymour said. 

Wellington lawyer and terminal cancer patient Seales spent her last days battling for the right to die with the help of her doctor, in 2015. Her case ultimately failed but sparked a major petition which led to the parliamentary inquiry into the issue.

Her widower, Matt Vickers said it was "great news" Seymour's bill had been pulled.

"Very happy for the news today, and can't wait for it to be debated in Parliament, and for the proper evidence-based discussion to take place. 

"Lecretia would be very happy I think. She would be over the moon that this had finally gotten to a point that it was coming before the House." 

Over the coming weeks, Seymour would be working to lobby his fellow MPs to ensure there was enough votes to pass the first reading. Seymour's last assessment - about six months ago - drew up 40 MPs strongly in favour, 27 strongly opposed and about 50 MPs who were undecided or had unknown views.

Among the known supporters was National MPs Chris Bishop and Jami-lee Ross and Labour MP Iain Lees-Galloway. Prime Minister Bill English - a practicing Catholic - was staunchly opposed to euthanasia. Many MPs have voiced a cautious positivity - depending on the safeguards written into the bill. 

Seymour's bill would allow anyone over the age of 18, "of a sound mind" decided on by two qualified medical practitioners, who was suffering in the late stages of a terminal or debilitating illness, to choose the time and method of their death. Further safe guards would also apply to make sure a person was not being coerced into making a decision that was not their own. 

Former Labour MP Maryan Street, who is President of the Voluntary Euthanasia Society, said she would "absolutely" campaign to make the bill an election issue. 

"It wasn't previously an election issue, and now we have it on the parliamentary agenda.

"And that also means that even if it is not treated fully, before Parliament rises in August, which it won't have time to be, it will be part of the agenda that gets passed on to the incoming Government and an incoming Government will have to decide whether or not they pick it up," she said. 

"If they don't they will be flying in the face of majority public opinion and they will be opening themselves up to huge criticism from those who will be campaigning between now and the 23rd of September, without a doubt." 

However Seymour said the timing of the bill, so close to an election would mean that MPs would have to reflect and take in the views of their electorates when coming to a conscience vote. 

Lees-Galloway picked up Street's Right to Life Choice Bill when she was not re-elected to Parliament at the last election. It was dropped at Little's request in 2014, because it was "not a party priority". 

But the issue has been brought back in front of the house at a moment when English was likely keen to avoid highlighting his political conservatism. 

Four months out from an election, the bill could get its first reading before the Parliamentary term ended, and could well pass the first hurdle into select committee, but was unlikely to get much further before the September election.

Leader of the House Simon Bridges said it was possible the bill could get before the house by August 9 - the last Members Day before the House rose. 

"It may, it may not." 

 - Stuff

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