Those you have to thank for the End of Life Choice Act

I blogged yesterday on the huge credit that should go to David Seymour for getting the EOLC Act through Parliament. It was a massive battle and there were multiple points at which things could have gone wrong, and it would have ended in defeat. David showed one MP can make a difference.

But he would be (and was) the first to say that many other people deserve credit also. There was a significant group of people involved who all played a key role, and I want to recognise some of them here.

First is Lecretia Seales and her family, especially her widower Matt Vickers. Lecretia was literally a martyr to the cause. She could have just accepted her brain tumour and used her final months to be with family. But she fought for the right for her and others to have a choice as to how they die. Her court case provided the catalyst for having Parliament look at the law. And Matt and the rest of the family had to grieve for Lecretia while also fighting to change the law. They now get to see some good come out of her sad death.

Ruth Dyson is one of the best political operators I have seen. Ruth was absolutely formidable in everything she did from wrangling Labour MPs, to working with Ministers to minimise barriers for the law. If Ruth said “I’ll take care of that”, you knew it would be done. If the Government had more MPs like Ruth, they’d be doing a lot better. Ruth was critical in getting MPs who would rather not have a referendum to still vote for it, as the price for getting the law passed. There were also a dozen or more other obstacles that Ruth just effortlessly took care of.

Chloe Swarbrick and the Greens. The Greens were unusual in that they had party policy in this area. They made it clear what type of bill they could support and what they couldn’t, and kept to their word. They were also conscientious in not supporting SOPs that would make the law unworkable.

Maryan Street and the Voluntary Euthanasia Society. Maryan was invaluable in making sure the VES understood and was supportive of the EOLC Bill and that activists understood that a good bill which would pass was better than a perfect bill which would fail. The VES was the main outside group supporting the law, and ensuring a voice for those supporting a change. Maryan of course submitted a similar bill when she was an MP.

NZ First for supporting it in exchange for a referendum. The issue of a referendum was one of the hardest calls to be made. If the bill clearly had the numbers without a referendum then I suspect most MPs would rather have not had the referendum. But the vote of 69 to 51 shows that without the nine NZ First votes, it would have tied 60-60. One of the great mysteries of the last two years was trying to work out how NZ First would vote on third reading if the referendum amendment was defeated. Different MPs in NZ First said different things at different times. In the end the referendum amendment passed, which pretty much guaranteed the bill passing.

The 17 National MPs who voted for it. The majority of National’s caucus was against it, but National does well electorally because it is a party that has both conservative and liberal MPs. It encourages diversity of opinion. Chris Bishop, Andrew Falloon and Nikki Kaye especially put in hard work to get as many National MPs in favour as possible.

Russell McVeagh. This law firm had a group of lawyers spend hundreds and hundreds of hours working pro bono to get the law passed. Having a team of legal experts on call was invaluable. They helped draft the law, draft amendments, scrutinise amendments, compare regimes from overseas to NZ, brief MPs on how the law would work etc etc. They made a huge difference, and did it all without a cent of remuneration – because two of their senior lawyers were friends and colleagues of Lecretia. Well done Tim and Catherine and team.

Last but definitely not least, Brooke van Velden. Brooke is David Seymour’s Political Director and she was the staffer who managed the bill through all its stages. By managed, I mean did almost everything. Every meeting she would know the possible timetable for it, have the latest voting projections, be across every SOP, know the answer to almost every question. She even met numerous MPs one on one to take them through it (Some MPs wouldn’t meet with David but would meet with Brooke). She is a truly impressive political staffer and last election she was No 3 on the ACT Party List. If she kept that place and ACT got 2% at the next election, she would be an Member of Parliament, and that would be a very good thing.

Conscience issue bills are my favourite part of politics, because you get to work across party lines. People often think all MPs do is fight and squabble with each other, but when it comes to issues with no party whipping, you see MPs from National, Labour, Greens and ACT meeting regularly, working together for a shared goal, and also trusting each other. Long may it continue.

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