End of Life Choice: Get Involved!
A real bill this time!
By Ann David
No, you’re not seeing double nor are you having a déjà vu experience.
The issue is back again and this time there’s a real bill to comment on.
This is unlike in 2015/2016 when Parliament was merely canvassing our opinions on assisted dying.
Here’s the story.
A tsunami of petitions
In June 2015, former MP Maryan Street brought a petition to Parliament requesting it to investigate New Zealanders’ attitudes to changing the law.
This would be to allow a person with a terminal illness or a person suffering acutely and irreversibly from a medical condition to request medical assistance to die at a time of their choosing.
That petition brought in an avalanche of over 22,000 submissions from organisations, representative bodies, experts local and foreign, but mostly from ordinary citizens. Some of these were ours.
It took until August 2017 for the Health Select Committee to sift through the mail, the hearings, the visits and draw up a report.
A disappointing summary report
For those like myself who support the Right to Die movement, the report was exceptionally disappointing. It did little more than summarise the views of those in favour and those against.
There was nothing we didn’t already know and, contrary to expectation, no recommendations were made.
At the same time as the Health Select Committee was working through submissions, MP David Seymour drafted his End of Life Choice bill and put it into the ballot.
It can take years for a Member’s bill to be drawn from the ballot and many never are. Miraculously, this one was drawn in June 2017.
The legislative process gets underway
The next step was for the bill to be read a first time in Parliament. This is an “in-House” affair where MPs debate the pros and cons of the draft.
Hansard reports record all speeches on the Parliamentary website at www.parliament.nz
After speeches, votes were taken and the result was 76 in favour of moving to select committee (the next step) and 44 against (quash the bill).
Local Kapiti MPs, Hon Nathan Guy and Minister Kris Faafoi, both voted “Yes”. We thank them for enabling the debate to continue.
Not wise to make assumptions
It would be foolish to assume, though, that just because an MP votes in favour of moving a bill to the next step, he/she is guaranteed to support it to second and third reading. Some change their minds during the course of the debate.
Others have the intention from the outset to quash the bill at second or third reading, but use this tactic as a sop to those of their constituents who have pestered them to look favourably on it; they can then claim to have done the right thing by both advocate and opponent groups.
Undoubtedly, among those 76 who voted favourably at first reading many are simply playing the game of having a bet each way with their electors.
There can be no room for complacency if this bill is important to you. We often hear of the 70+% of citizens who want the law changed to permit assisted dying in certain circumstances, but we don’t see them in print at Parliament where it counts or in the offices of their MPs. They are a silent, inactive majority.
By contrast, the vocal minority is energetically active and theirs is the strident voice the MPs hear.
Neither is it certain that the public referendum proposal will sweep in to show the truth at the end. Although NZ First wants a publicly binding referendum to be the final decider and although MP
David Seymour has written it into his bill as an addendum, but it is not certain that the rest of Parliament will agree to any referendum at all, let alone a binding one.
It’s up to us!
So now it’s up to you and me. If you think you don’t need to submit again because you submitted 2/3 years ago to the Health Select Committee on the petition, then sadly, you’d be wrong.
Your old submission will not carry over to the Justice Select Committee because the issue is slightly different.
We’re no longer being asked if we think the law needs to change; this time we’re being asked to comment on a piece of draft legislation that, if successful, will change the law.
You/we/all of us who are interested need to make a new submission and we need to deliver it by 20 February.
Your submission: as long or short as you like
Submitting to Parliament sounds a lot grander than it is. No-one needs specialised legal knowledge or brilliant writing skills to do it. It needn’t take long.
A submission can be any length – even a paragraph. It’s just you telling the select committee how you feel on the issue and why.
Your submission can be posted in, emailed in or completed online in Parliament’s website.
For more information and to read the actual wording of the bill, go to www.yestodignity.org.nz where there are direct links to the bill and to the submission page (easy one-stop shop). Alternatively, you could go to www.parliament.nz and navigate from there.
If you want to post your viewpoint, send to: Andy Gardner Committee Secretariat, Justice Committee, Parliament Buildings, Wellington 6160
If you miss this bill, the next opportunity can’t come until the following parliamentary term and then only if some brave MP decides to draft new legislation.
So get involved now!