DANICA CREAHAN WRITES — On October 17, New Zealanders will vote in the general election on the Prime Minister, legalizing the use of recreational marijuana and one uniquely straightforward question: “Do you support the End of Life Choice Act 2019 coming into force?”
New Zealand is the first country in history to put the right to die to a general vote.
The End of Life Choice Act of 2019 was passed as legislation by Act MP David Seymour, who has been an advocate for the law since the 2014-17 term of parliament. If it garners enough votes, medically assisted death for terminal patients who are citizens or permanent residents of New Zealand would be legalized.
Assisted dying is defined as death facilitated by a medical professional giving medication that will relieve suffering and hasten death. The modes of medically assisted death include ingestion, intravenous delivery, ingestion through a tube, or injection of a fatal dose of medication. To qualify for medically assisted death, one must be 18 or older, likely to die of an illness in the next six months, have reasonably unbearable suffering and physical decline, and be cognitively fit to make an informed decision. Of note, passage of the law will not mean the legalization of suicide
According to a poll by 1 News Colmar Brunton, almost two-thirds of New Zealanders are planning to vote yes on the referendum. This aligns with expectations, as there has been growing support for the right to die in New Zealand over the past 20 years. Still, it is a hotly debated issue in the country, and, if it fails, it wouldn’t be the first time legislation like this does not garner enough support.
Two New Zealand bills proposing the legalization of voluntary euthanasia, termed “Death with Dignity,” were broached first in 1995 and again in 2003. Both failed to make it past the first reading. Then in 2012, the first draft of the current End of Life Choice bill was also proposed, following its predecessors’ precedent of failure.
Opposition to the right to die is mainly based on a fear that vulnerable groups of people will be pressured into choosing euthanasia. Essentially, people are worried that it will lead the terminally ill and elderly to feel a “duty to die,” but according to the New Zealand Herald, a review of all countries’ and states’ euthanasia laws by a Western Australian select committee in 2018 shows that vulnerable groups were not more likely than others to access assisted dying.
While the legalization process makes its way to the ballot box, many terminally ill people wait desperately for New Zealanders to vote. Stuart Armstrong spoke to Vice World News about what the right to die will mean to him. “How I imagine it is being on horseback,” he says. “On the beach, on my beautiful Clydesdale, with my wife on a horse beside me [and] friends, family, everyone around after a big bonfire party and a whole lot of music playing,” said Armstrong.
If the bill does not pass, he added, “then I don’t get to do it. And if I don’t get to do it I’m looking at the”—he makes the sound of a gun cocking, turns a finger on himself— “boom, or the ride-[my-motorbike]-off-a-cliff type scenario, instead of the lovely farewell with my family on my terms. So this has become a real, all-encompassing fight for me.”