Last year 2,908,071 New Zealanders voted in the End of Life Choice Act 2019 Referendum.
I was one of the 1,893,290 who voted in support of the legislation.
This week the End of Life Choice Act becomes law. It was one of the hardest decisions I have ever made. Months and weeks of listening and watching the debates, discussions and arguments didn't make the decision any easier.
It's difficult to shake off the teachings of a Christian upbringing, that is if you want to, it is always somewhere in the background, not far away. Prompting you to remember, think and weigh up the rightness of your decisions and actions.
No escape. Not helping with the decisions either was a job I had some years ago as a Hospice chief executive officer. Hospices are remarkable, supporting people to live life well for however long that life may be. No, this was a decision I threw everything at.
I had to be sure I had enough information to make a decision I could live with.
The world in which we live is changing on many fronts and to me it is obvious people want more say in the decisions being made on their behalf. Climate change is a good example.
Citizens are demanding their governments start taking climate change seriously and make the necessary policy changes to help remedy the impacts of decades of climate change damage and environmental neglect and abuse.
On a major issue such as euthanasia, people wanted a say.
This wasn't the first time euthanasia law has been considered. Attempts were made to introduce the law in 1995 and in 2003. Both failed to pass.
In 2015 ACT New Zealand MP David Seymour entered his End of Life Choice Bill into the ballot box. It passed its first reading 76-44 in December 2017, its second reading 70-50 in June 2019, and its third reading 69-51 in November 2019. NZ First supported the bill in exchange for a referendum.
This was held at the same time as the 2020 general election. I am pleased a referendum was held.
I listened and tried to take in all the arguments. Because this was such a controversial Act it was passionately debated and I suspect most people took every opportunity to listen to the arguments both for and against.
I kept returning to the Canadian experience. What their experience was when considering euthanasia and how have things developed since they introduced similar legislation15 years ago.
I found the 2011 End of Life Decision Making in Canada Report very helpful. It was produced by an international expert panel and commissioned by the Royal Society of Canada. And while it is sometimes unwise to make comparisons, I found the report contained the information I needed to finally make up my mind.
Like most legislation, the devil will be in the implementation detail. I believe those whose job it will be to bed in the legislation will work hard to ensure the intent of the legislation is front and centre of their job. And from time to time amendments may be necessary.
Not all people will have a good death. Those with a terminal illness, and not likely to live past six months, may want to choose when to end their life. It is not compulsory. With dedicated health practitioners and providers working for the best patient outcome, death can be met with dignity at a time of the patient's choosing.
They now have the opportunity to have this last request granted, to be freed from pain and go in peace.
- Merepeka Raukawa-Tait is chairwoman of the Whānau Ora Commissioning Agency, a Lakes District Health Board member and Rotorua District councillor.