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Herald on Sunday editorial: Louisa Wall can honour 20 years of trying

It has been more than 20 years since the first major effort in New Zealand to promote legalised euthanasia.

Michael Laws' Death with Dignity Bill - drafted with former MP Cam Campion as he faced terminal cancer - was defeated by a walloping 61 votes to 29. That 1995 attempt has been followed by others. In 2003, NZ First's Peter Brown saw his version of the bill narrowly edged out 59 to 58.

Those numbers alone reflect changing attitudes of the time, but since then further attempts have stalled. A 2012 Maryan Street bill was withdrawn for fears it would distract from Labour's campaign, and David Seymour's bill submitted last year languishes in the Private Members Ballot. It is a lot of paperwork for very little result.

And over that time, grieving family members have faced court accused of allowing compassion to spill over into crime. Lesley Martin served half of a 15-month jail term for the attempted murder of her mother; Sean Davison was sentenced to five months' home detention after pleading guilty to inciting and procuring suicide over the death of his ailing mother; and in 2012 Evans Mott wept outside court after walking free without conviction after pleading guilty to helping his wife commit suicide.

All cases are different, but the punishments would suggest there is little legal appetite for such cases.

History suggests there is little political appetite, either.

That could change with Louisa Wall's new bill to legalise assisted dying. Wall was inspired by the campaign of Lecretia Seales, who died last year of a brain tumour shortly after a High Court judge rejected her bid for the legal right to help her end her life.

Wall has a proven track record in uniting Parliament after the success of her same-sex marriage bill. Critically, she has drafted a bill that relies on an ethics committee system - proposing tight regulation that should satisfy many on the fence. That sets it apart from previous attempts.

There is a long and difficult road ahead, particularly with an election year, where not rocking the boat will be key for leaders of major parties.

That means it is likely there will be little movement before 2018. But Wall's determination should ensure it is not another 20 years before one of the most fundamental questions of our time gets a better airing.

- NZ Herald

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