Future of End of Life Choice Bill more murky than ever

By Danielle van Dalen July 02, 2019

The End of Life Choice Bill passed its Second Reading in Parliament last week with 70 votes in favour and 50 votes against. As the Bill moves into these later stages of the parliamentary process it becomes even more vital that our nation’s leaders ensure this conversation gets the careful consideration it deserves. My fear, however, is that politics and ego will get in the way.

While I have long had concerns about the impact this Bill will have on New Zealand’s most vulnerable people, last week’s Second Reading debate made it very clear that I’m not alone in this and essentially no one is happy with the current state of the Bill. Where my thoughts differ from those MPs who voted in favour of the Bill is in whether the upcoming Committee of the Whole House will be able to change this.

70 votes in favour and 50 votes against

National MP Amy Adams, for example, voted in support of the bill in the hope that the committee stage would “be an opportunity for the bill to be amended in ways that I think would remedy some of my concerns.” Even the Bill’s sponsor, David Seymour, has been working on amendments that can be presented in this stage to change the Bill and, he hopes, persuade more MPs that it will be safe enough to introduce into law.

On the other hand, analysis of data and experience from jurisdictions where similar legislation is now law has convinced me that it’s impossible to write a law like this without placing many vulnerable people at risk of wrongful death, and that our individual choices have an impact into communities far beyond ourselves.

Now that the Bill has passed Second Reading it will move into Committee of the Whole House and a final vote at the Third Reading. This means that our MPs will not only need to try and find solutions to the enormous risk introducing a Bill like this poses, they will also be trying to find these solutions in an incredibly complex environment, where there are a multitude of competing changes available.

It’s impossible to write a law like this without placing many vulnerable people at risk of wrongful death.

In some ways Committee of the Whole House is similar to a Select Committee, just with all 120 MPs working to amend the legislation to reduce risk and strengthen safeguards. The problem, however, is that the eight members of the Justice Select Committee were unable to agree on any significant changes to the End of Life Choice Bill. It seems unlikely then, that we can expect 120 MPs with competing political interests and amendments to agree on any substantial changes to the Bill. This only becomes more complicated as we approach another election year. For many MPs their own political futures will become an important consideration as they debate and vote on any potential amendments to this Bill.

These are not the conditions for creating good and robust legislation, or even properly considering if this is really the kind of legislation we want introduced in New Zealand. And this is a decision that our MPs can’t afford to get wrong.

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