The end of life choice referendum

The end of life choice referendum

Assisted dying is intentionally killing another person with their consent or assisting someone to kill themselves. It is often referred to as euthanasia or assisted suicide. Assisted dying is currently illegal in New Zealand. This referendum is about whether assisted dying should be legal for those with a terminal illness who are also undergoing physical decline and unbearable suffering. If the yes vote wins, assisted dying would become legal in a year. It would be subject to the rules set out in the End of Life Choice Act 2019.

Why are we having this referendum?

It is currently legal for patients to refuse medical treatment in order to bring about their own death, but assisted dying – which requires the active involvement of another person – is a crime.

In recent years there have been a number of attempts to legalise assisted dying. In 2015, Wellington lawyer Lecretia Seales, who was terminally ill, asked the High Court to rule that her doctor would not be committing a crime if he assisted her to die. The Court declined to make such a declaration – but it did say palliative care does not alleviate suffering in all cases and that people already commit suicide to avoid suffering from the terminal illnesses. 

Following the Seales case, ACT Party leader David Seymour introduced the End of Life Choice Bill in 2017, which set up the referendum.

Supporters of assisted dying say legalising assisted dying would alleviate suffering and allow people to die with dignity and autonomy. They say it is a basic human right for people who are experiencing irremediable suffering to choose the manner and timing of their death. Supporters say the rules set out in the End of Life Choice Act provide enough protections while allowing for people to access assisted dying. 

Opponents say that assisted dying is unnecessary because palliative care provides enough support for people who are terminally ill. They also argue patients may be coerced into assisted dying, and raise concerns about medical practitioners’ ability to assess competence or eligibility to die and a patient’s life expectancy. Some church organisations also oppose assisted dying on spiritual grounds, while some disability rights advocates say the law may make disabled people more vulnerable.

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Party Positions

The parties' positions

ACT Party
Supports yes vote

David Seymour gave up a ministerial promotion to pass this bill. Why? Because a compassionate society gives choice to those who suffer at the end of their life. Because the alternative – making people suffer for the morality of others – is barbaric. Over two years, the bill went through one of the longest and most robust parliamentary processes in living memory. The Attorney General advised that it is consistent with the Bill of Rights Act. It is a rigorous, safe and compassionate law.

Advance New Zealand
No response
Aotearoa Legalise Cannabis
No position

It is up to members to make up their own mind on their position.

Green Party
Supports yes vote

The Green Party believes that New Zealanders who have a terminal illness should be able to choose the way their life ends in a supported and open way, to have dignity at the end of their life, provided there are very clear safeguards. We recognise that this is a very personal and sensitive issue for many people. We think everyone should make up their own minds about how to vote in this referendum.

Heartland New Zealand
No response
Labour Party
No position

This is a deeply personal issue for many New Zealanders. When the Bill was before Parliament, Labour MPs were free to vote with their conscience and that applies for the referendum. Whether that legislation now comes into force is up to voters to determine in this referendum.

Māori Party
No response
National Party
No position

This is treated as a conscience vote, Members will cast their votes independently.

New Conservative
Supports no vote

The End of Life Bill is poor law as it allows an exception to existing law which protects life, and will quickly be extended. It has extended past the terminally ill in Belgium, increased 10-fold, with even an 11-year-old applying. NZ’s old abortion law, intended for extreme circumstances, soon became birth control with up to 18,000 a year. New Conservative would invest more in hospices and palliative care and protect the vulnerable from risk of early death through poor law. Lastly, young people who maybe seeing suicide as an option, need to hear that life is valuable and that they are important.

NZ First
No position

My conscience is no more important than my neighbours and I will not seek to influence it. I believe that the New Zealand voting public are able to research and inform their vote on these issues – I am sceptical of those in politics who suggest that the public should not be trusted considering they are trusted enough to elect us as politicians, you can’t have it both ways.

One Party
No response
Outdoors Party
No response
Social Credit
No response
Sustainable New Zealand
No position

This is a conscience issue. Our view of referenda is that they should be reserved only for constitutional changes (e.g. the changing of the electoral system by referendum in 1993). We are wary of complex issues and plans for implementation being reduced to a simple yes/no proposition. We would, however, respect the will of voters.

TEA Party
No position

We leave it to conscience votes.

The Opportunities Party
No position

This is a values based issue. TOP is an evidence-based party and in our view decisions like this are best left to deliberative democracy techniques such as citizen's asemblies to resolve. That involves bringing together a random sample of the population and drawing on expertise to inform their decision.

Vision NZ
No response

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