Introducing the Inaugural MND New Zealand Research Conference - Monday 9th December 2019 in Auckland

End of Life Choice Bill Update

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Having the right to choose assisted dying has become a global debate. Lobbying, submissions and protests have urged governments to look at current laws and work towards more compassionate policy around assisted dying and provisions to protect the most vulnerable. Victoria, Australia made headlines in 2017 when it passed the Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill becoming the first state in Australia to pass this type of bill.

The Australian Parliament spent 100 hours debating the bill which will come into effect in June 2019. This will mean Victorians who have lived a minimum of one year in the State and are terminally ill will have their case reviewed and can opt for assisted dying. A similar law was passed in Canada in June 2016.

New Zealand is now considering a law change with the End of Life Choice Bill, sometimes referred to as the ‘Seymour Bill’, passing its first reading on 13 December, 2017. The bill is currently being reviewed by the Justice Committee and is due to report back to the House of Representatives on 27 March, 2019.

Act MP David Seymour strongly supports the bill; he proposes limiting legalised assisted dying solely to people
with a terminal illness and incorporate aspects of a palliative care bill drafted by National MP Maggie Barry.

Some 37,000 submissions were made on the End of Life Choice Bill and the bill will need to allay concerns brought up in the submissions with a number of amendments still to be made. David says, “We should have had an assisted dying bill 20 years ago. We give people more and more right to choose how they live, gradually empowering people, and this is one of the last areas in our lives where we do not have a choice on whether we live or die. As long as we are not hurting anyone else and having such a bill in place can alleviate a huge amount of suffering, then why would we not have one?”

While MND New Zealand’s submission maintains a neutral position on the bill, it stresses the importance of ensuring that any rights created by the End of Life Choice Bill do not discriminate against people with MND and advocates for the increase of funding and improved access to palliative care.

MND New Zealand has also made a request to change the terminology of ‘talk’ to ‘communicate’ in sections pertaining to someone telling a medical practitioner of their choice, and to include the words ‘communication using assistive speech technology’ to be inclusive of people who rely on this form of communication. At this stage the term ‘talk’ is still used on Clause 8 which outlines the various ways a person can ask for assisted dying from a medical practitioner.

MND New Zealand also recommends better palliative care for people in rural areas, more beds for respite hospices rather than private hospitals, inpatient services in small towns, and overnight
nursing care.
When asked, David said, “This is a safety-first conservative bill. We will have in place the person needing to consent and two medical practitioners who would have to approve.

“There is a myth out there that palliative care and assisted dying are competing alternatives. Places like Europe with good palliative care does not change some terminally ill people still choosing assisted dying.”

When asked about why he wanted to get the bill put into law he said, “I want to do work to help people. This is an obvious area of need that no one else is prepared to take on.” David speculates the bill will go to a vote in June and a result known by November this year.

By Sophie Parish

If you want to get in touch with David Seymour
E:davidseymour.epsom@parliament.govt.nz
P: 09 522 7464

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