Asia-Pacific

New Zealand set to vote in referendum on euthanasia

NZ Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. Source: AAP

New Zealand's ACT party leader David Seymour has declared his delight at passing the End of Life Choice Bill through parliament.

Beaten in New Zealand parliament but up for a referendum fight, opponents of euthanasia say they'll wage a "major war" in their bid to prevent assisted dying for the terminally ill becoming law.

A late-night sitting of parliament passed the End of Life Choice Bill on Wednesday, which sends euthanasia to a public poll alongside the 2020 election.

The bill passed 69-51 in a conscience vote.

Maggie Barry, minister of Conservation, Arts Culture and Heritage and Seniors, New Zealand participate in the Our Ocean, One Future conference at the State Department in Washington, Friday, Sept. 16, 2016. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)
Maggie Barry.
FR170079 AP

A referendum will now be held at the same time as the 2020 election, and another referendum to legalise cannabis, as previously agreed by the government.

That poll is expected next autumn.

Many, including prime minister Jacinda Ardern, have expressed fears that debate could turn nasty in the build-up to the public vote.

National MP Maggie Barry, who led the failed campaign to defeat the bill in parliament, vowed to block euthanasia becoming law in the referendum.

"It is going to be a major war," she said.

"The battle tonight was lost but we are now in a major war to tell the people of New Zealand what this bill might mean for the vulnerable, the disabled and those who are afraid of their lives.

"I feel very sad for the people we've tried to give voice to ... they sit on my shoulder and tell me they are frightened and I believe them."

Euthanasia bill sponsor David Seymour (center) embraces other lawmakers in Parliament on Wednesday.
Euthanasia bill sponsor David Seymour (center) embraces other lawmakers in Parliament on Wednesday.
AP

The bill's proponent, ACT party leader David Seymour, had a swift retort for the former broadcaster and gardening TV show host.

"I think it's about time for her to get back to the garden, where I think she'll be very successful again," he said.

Mr Seymour is just the latest member of parliament to carry the can for the issue in New Zealand.

Two previous bills have reached the floor of the parliament and lost - in 1995 and 2003 - with the most recent debate defeated by a solitary vote.

The current proposal has been tightened through a four-year consultation process both inside and outside parliament, where it received a record-high number of public submissions.

Mr Seymour is confident the poll will echo public surveys that show "overwhelming support" and pass in 2020.

"It's great that we got this far and delivered New Zealanders choice," he said.

"Our job is going to be to ensure that we have proper information out there about how the bill really works ... on that basis, I think the New Zealand public will welcome it.

"It makes me proud of our country that we can have this debate, and we can actually get progress in becoming a more free and compassionate society."

Bobbie Carroll, who was diagnosed with blood cancer in 2016, watched the debate from the gallery and cheered the result.

"I have terminal cancer and the passing of this bill gives me huge relief," she said.

"I have no intention of cutting my life very short. Maybe four or five days. And that's fabulous, I'm elated."

 

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