The unprecedented number of submissions on ACT’s David Seymour’s bill led to the decision last month by the committee to take to the road and extend its reporting deadline to March to allow it to consider more submissions on the bill that would allow the terminally ill – or those suffering a ‘grievous and irremediable medical condition’ – to legally request medically assisted dying.
The committee has now published a timetable for multiple meetings in Auckland, Christchurch and Wellington as well as 12 regional centres from Whangarei to Invercargill over the next two months.
Committee chair Raymond Huo said public interest was naturally high in the bill and he was heartened that so many people have taken the time to write and express their view with around 10 per cent of submitters also wanting to talk to the committee.
About 22,000 submissions were received by the Health Select Committee (including 1000 of those in person) when it held its 2016-17 inquiry into euthanasia prompted by the Maryan Street petition – a similar number to another high-profile conscience issue, the legalisation of same-sex marriage in 2012.
The 35,000 submissions on the End of Life Choice Bill are being published on the committee’s website as they are processed with more than 1,250 of them now up online. Many of them are short, heartfelt submissions from both sides of the spectrum on the emotional issue.
The submissions include the many national organisations that have made submissions to the committee during the three days of hearings held since oral submissions began on May 21. The last of these national organisation submissions are due to be heard by the full select committee on Thursday in Auckland and Christchurch on Monday.
Huo said the committee would then form subcommittees to enable it to travel the country and hear from as many people as possible in person, over the coming weeks.
Committee deputy chair Maggie Barry said the bill’s proposed amendments to the Crimes Act to allow euthanasia and assisted suicide “are such fundamental changes to our law that a record number of New Zealanders have been motivated to write to Parliament and asked to be heard”.
“We are committed to respectfully hearing all submitters and in an effort to be as transparent, inclusive, and accessible as possible we invite the public to join us, as well as all MPs, to ensure they are aware of the issues before they exercise their conscience vote early next year,” said Barry.
The bill has already gone further than previous attempts at a law change in 1995 and 2003, which were both voted down at the first reading.
The committee will also be tasked with deciding whether a public referendum should be held on voluntary euthanasia.
New Zealand First has made a binding referendum a condition of its support, and Seymour said he is open to the proposal if it is approved by the committee and Parliament. Justice Minister Andrew Little has indicated that it might consider holding a euthanasia referendum at the same time as its promised referendum on legalising cannabis for personal use – but neither referendum were likely to be binding.
Bill hearings are open to the public and media and, where possible, livestreamed to the committee’s Facebook page. Committee staff are getting in touch with individuals and organisations who have asked to be heard.
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