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Brave women have swung opinion towards euthanasia

Opinion Piece

The long debate on the right to assisted dying or euthanasia will reach a significant milestone next week, and the actions of two brave women could have a strong impact on it.

The health select committee is receiving submissions on a petition presented by former MP Maryan Street that the House of Representatives investigate fully public attitudes towards the introduction of legislation that would permit medically-assisted dying — in the event of a terminal illness or irreversible condition that made life unbearable. Submissions close on Monday.

ACT leader David Seymour has also lodged a private members’ bill seeking a legislation change legalising euthanasia.

Among those who have made a submission is the former president of the NZ Council of Trade Unions Helen Kelly, who has terminal cancer. In her submission she says that she wants to live but if she has to die she wants to do it peacefully; and some people may want tools to help them.

Last year Lecretia Seales took a case to the High Court seeking a declaration that her GP would not face criminal charges for helping her to die. Failing that she sought a declaration that the Crimes Act was not consistent with her rights and fundamental freedoms.

She died on June 5, the day after receiving the judgement denying her applications.

There is tremendous sympathy for both women nationally and that has migrated into public opinion that New Zealand should allow carefully regulated euthanasia. Polls show as many as 73 percent of New Zealanders want to see some sort of right-to-die legislation.

There is strong opposition to any change from the Catholic Church, the country’s biggest Christian denomination, and right-to-life groups while the respected Salvation Army is also broadly opposed.

It is a thorny issue that political parties have tended to avoid in the past, even to the extent of getting MPs to withdraw bills. It is one that is not going to go away, though, and the committee’s decision will be awaited with great interest.