If David Seymour’s assisted dying bill gets knocked out, hopes of a referendum at the election die with it.

by Graham Adams

The Second vote in Parliament is coming up

end-of-life-choicesWe will soon find out which of our MPs believe in participatory democracy.

The vote on the second reading of the End of Life Choice Bill is likely to be held on either 19 June 19 or 26 June.

Most New Zealanders want assisted dying to be legalised. Many supporters also believe they don’t have to pay too much attention to how MPs will vote because they will be able to have their say in a referendum at the 2020 election.

But that’s simply not true. At the moment, there is no referendum scheduled or guaranteed. In fact, if the End of Life Choice Bill is defeated at its second or third readings, that’s the end of it.

As David Seymour said when I asked whether there was a fallback provision for a referendum even if his bill failed: “Sadly all three votes [in Parliament] are sudden death. If we don’t get a majority at second reading, it’s all over.”

A Referendum in the offing?

Winston Peters has made a referendum a condition of his party’s continued support and consequently Seymour has suggested amending it to include that requirement.

NZ First MP Shane Jones made his party’s case for putting it to the people on TVNZ’s Breakfast show in April. He said that he was raised as an Anglican and implied he found assisted dying uncomfortable as “a tapu sort of subject”.

Nevertheless, he believes that “temporary occupants in Parliament should hand it over to all New Zealanders who should decide”.

But this can only happen if Seymour gets 61 votes at both its second and third readings.

The earlier select committee process

At the bill’s first reading in December 2017, a big majority of MPs voted to send it to the Justice select committee. It was understood that some voted in favour simply to give the committee the chance to assess it, without making any commitment to further support it.

But, in April, the select committee recommended only technical changes and passed it back to Parliament. So it’s hard to see why any MP who thought it was a good idea to vote for the bill at the first reading wouldn’t vote for it again because it is the same bill.

Many don’t seek a referendum

euthanasia 4The unfortunate truth is many opponents don’t want it to go to a referendum.

In April, Renee Joubert, from Euthanasia-Free NZ, wrote on Facebook: “The problem with a referendum is that the euthanasia issue is very complex and nuanced… There are multiple options for each eligibility criterion and proposed safeguard. There are wider implications and unintended consequences to consider. The issue doesn’t really lend itself to a yes/no question.” No one could plausibly argue that voters haven’t had the chance to acquaint themselves with the concepts involved in legalising assisted dying.

If MPs genuinely care about democracy, they’ll vote for Seymour’s bill to ensure voters can decide for themselves through a referendum.