It is approximately one year since Lecretia Seales took her case for euthanasia and assisted suicide to the High Court in Wellington. Looking back, one of the benefits of this case is that it has clarified the current long-standing laws against assisting suicide and against homicide that apply unambiguously to both euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide. The judge also concluded that these laws were not inconsistent with the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act.
In June of 2015, a matter of weeks after the conclusion of the High Court Case, former List MP Maryan Street presented a petition to Parliament on behalf of the Voluntary Euthanasia Society of New Zealand. That petition was subsequently forwarded on to the Health Select Committee, which duly called for public submissions on the matter.
To date, no official reports have come from either the Office of the Clerk of the House of Representatives – who receive and process public submissions – or the Health Select Committee. What we know unofficially is that more than 15,000 New Zealand individuals and organisations have made submissions – an unprecedented number for a petition such as this and far exceeding the expectations of everyone including the Office of the Clerk, which is still processing submissions more than three months after the close-off date of 1 February 2016.
What happens next is the Health Select Committee will arrange for those who want to appear in person to speak to their submission. This should begin very soon but will take some months as the Committee have a limited number of hours available to them and are also dealing with other business. All in all it is not unreasonable to conclude they won’t be able to deliver their report until sometime in 2017.
In the meantime it is possible that David Seymour’s Private Members Bill – placed in the Ballot in October 2015 – could be pulled from the Private Members Ballot. (The provisions in Seymour’s Bill would make ‘assisted dying’ available to anyone over 18 years of age on the basis of ‘unbearable suffering unable to be relieved in a manner the person considers tolerable’ – effectively assisted suicide/euthanasia on demand.) If Seymour’s Bill was selected before the Health Select Committee had released its report, Parliament would find itself in a unique situation – having to debate the desirability of a law change before the results of a significant investigation on the issue could be presented.
Should this happen, my view is that MP’s should vote Seymour’s Bill down at the first opportunity. The considered information and views of 15,000 New Zealanders should not be ignored – people’s contributions, both for and against change, must inform any future parliamentary debate about this very complex issue.
Visit www.nathaniel.org.nz to view a video on this issue.
Dr John Kleinsman is Director of the New Zealand Catholic Bioethics Centre – the Nathaniel Centre.