The Justice Committee will start hearing more than 35,000 submissions next week on the polarising issue of whether under certain circumstances people should have the choice to medically end their life early, the large number of submitters evidence of New Zealanders' high interest in the End of Life Choice Bill.

The bill, in the name of Act Party leader David Seymour, seeks to give people with a terminal illness or a grievous and irremediable medical condition the option of requesting assisted dying.

It sets out the proposed legal process, including the requirements that people may only request assisted dying if they fulfil the conditions listed in the bill, at least two medical practitioners must review the request and that consent is ongoing and may be withdrawn at any point.

The strength of feeling on the matter was demonstrated recently at a public meeting hosted by National Tukituki MP Lawrence Yule that attracted more than 300 people.


Yule said opinion was split evenly, and those attending got to hear supportive and opposing perspectives from the speakers that attended as well as meeting-goers.

They included one woman whose sister and mother had died in significant pain from a genetic condition she may have inherited, a fate she did not wish for herself.

Another person said she had been told by clinicians she would die and at one point begged for them to end her life, but as it happened she survived, and was very glad to be alive.

Another spoke of how we euthanase animals when they are suffering, and asked why that should be different for people.

"What everybody is trying to do deal with, like me, is that while it's true there are some people who have difficult deaths is legislation the right mechanism to help those people?" said Yule.

In an effort to gather as much information as he could, he said he had talked to many people on both sides of the debate, but that his final decision once the bill was in its final form would not be made on the issue of freedom of choice.

"It will be made on whether there is undue suffering potentially being endured and whether that is acceptable or not.

"It's a moral dilemma around the very big call to take someone's life early versus the suffering they may be under - I think that will be the crunch of it when it comes to the select committee."


Although he voted against the bill during the first reading, he said he was keeping an open mind about what side of the ledger he would land on once it had been through the select committee process.

Seymour attended the meeting and said he believed this was the last big human rights issue this country would face.

"It's about treating people with dignity as long as they are not harming anyone else. It's deeply unsatisfactory to people that at their most vulnerable, when they are very ill and at the end of their lives, that they should suffer when we know from evidence around the world that it's perfectly possible to give a choice to those who want it."

He said the Havelock North meeting was typical of those he attended in other parts of the country in terms of the variety of views shared.

In the first reading of the bill, he said 76 MPs were in favour and 44 against - of those in favour nine were NZ First MPs, who said they would support the bill if he promoted a referendum on the subject.

"While I am favouring a referendum to get NZ First on board it's not something I can necessarily control - although I am generally sceptical about referenda, with this one there would be no ambiguity it would be a simple matter of a yes or no vote from the public."

He noted that given the large number of submissions, the select committee had received an extension of six months to consider the matter, so it would be unlikely to come back to Parliament until March or April next year.

Napier Labour MP Stuart Nash agreed that it was a polarising issue and one he would be seeking his constituents' views on before voting.

"Once the bill is out of the select committee in its final form I will hold a series of public meetings with experts on both sides, and will ask people how they want me to vote."

Because bills often came out of the process looking different to how they were introduced, he felt it would premature to gather those views at this stage.

"I'm not sitting on the fence - it's more about wanting to have a transparent process to get community input on the debate first because of all the implications."