The House voted to pass the law allowing voluntary euthanasia in New Zealand by 69 to 51 last night. It’s a momentous occasion, even though the law won’t come into force until a year after a referendum to confirm or overturn it.
I’ve been involved with the campaign to pass it, and it was satisfying to see it pass the third reading with an 18 vote majority. But its not the same feeling as when same sex couples were allowed to marry.
The latter was about allowing a few hundred thousand New Zealanders to marry the person they love. This is about allowing people to get assistance to end their lives because they have a terminal illness. Having people we love die is always very sad. The bill gives people a choice, but it doesn’t change the inevitable outcome for those with a terminal illness.
The other way I see this bill as different is that I understand why some are opposed to it, in a way I didn’t with same sex marriage. Allowing gay couples to marry didn’t harm anyone else. But allowing the state to authorise an assisted death does have potential harm. It is quite legitimate to worry about safeguards, about process, about coercion etc.
Overall I think the law change (if confirmed) will do far more good than harm. I think the safeguards and process are robust and the eligibility criteria is narrow. It will give people with less than six months to live the dignity of being able to make a choice as to how their final days go.
It is a huge credit to David Seymour that he got this law through Parliament. Four other MPs before him have submitted similar bills and they were either defeated or not drawn.
David is the sole ACT MP. Normally a bill will have been approved by a majority of a party’s caucus so you start with at least 30 or so votes locked in. But David started with just one vote – his own. He had to persuade and convince 68 other MPs to vote with him. He didn’t do that alone (and I will blog on others who helped in a seperate post) but he did do it.
MPs who voted for the bill have told me that David didn’t pressure or hector them. He met with them, he explained it. He worked tirelessly lobbying his colleagues.
He also kept a huge focus on what changes are needed to ensure at least 61 MPs voted for it. The old saying is perfect is the enemy of good. Rather than die in a ditch over eligibility, he made the changes needed to keep the Greens and NZ First on board.
I thought David was especially good during the committee of the whole stage. As the select committee failed to make substantive changes, he had to get them made at that stage. It was a very very long debate with scores of amendments. David spoke often, responding to point after point, in a way rarely seen by an bill’s sponsor.
People often wonder if one MP can make a difference, especially an MP in a caucus of one. David has shown you can.