Isaac Davison

Isaac Davison is a NZ Herald political reporter.

Euthanasia bill under party pressure

Labour's Maryan Street is concerned her bill could be abused in election year. Photo / Greg Bowker
Labour's Maryan Street is concerned her bill could be abused in election year. Photo / Greg Bowker

Labour MP Maryan Street is under pressure to drop a member's bill which would legalise euthanasia because her party is concerned it could be a negative distraction in the lead-up to the general election next year.

If Ms Street's End of Life Choice Bill was pulled from the ballot, the debate could extend into election year, and some Labour MPs felt this could hurt the party's run for Government by distracting from its main policies and deterring more conservative voters.

Ms Street said that several colleagues had discussed with her what would happen if the bill were pulled from the ballot in 2014.

"They have been very sympathetic and they know it is my decision whether it stays in the ballot or not. The issue is that it could be a distraction from our key messages ... and I have to weigh that up, I have to think about that."

She argued that it would be a distraction for all parties, and the debate would affect not just Labour.

Asked whether she planned to withdraw the bill, Ms Street said she would consult with the pro-euthanasia group End of Life Choice, which had asked her to draft the bill.

A spokeswoman for the group, Yvonne Shaw, said the organisation had been lobbying for a change for 30 years and public support was now overwhelming for a law change.

Another lobby group, Exit International, said that if the bill were withdrawn it would be a setback for legal, voluntary euthanasia in this country. Auckland spokeswoman Fern MacKenzie said: "I understand that [Labour] would be nervous - it's a little bit controversial. But it could get votes for Labour, too."

Ms Street said that a full and rational debate on the bill was needed, and she was also concerned that the discussion could be too emotional if it came up in the lead-up to an election.

"I'm sure that there are more people who are in favour of this than oppose it. But it runs into that problem of how it might be used or how it might be abused in election year and I'm thinking about whether or not I wish to expose it to that."

At present, there are 69 members' bills in the ballot. Nine members' bills were still waiting for a first reading, so another ballot was unlikely to be held until the end of the year.

The End of Life Choice Bill would allow people aged 18 or over to be helped to die if they were proven mentally competent by two doctors, after consultation with family, and after a "stand-down" period of a week.

The last attempt to legalise euthanasia, the Death with Dignity Bill, was narrowly voted down by 60 votes to 58 votes in 2003.

- NZ Herald

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