This week Members of Parliament voted on the second reading of the End of Life Choice legislation.
This vote was a conscience vote which allows MPs to vote without party influence. For people who do not understand the parliamentary process there are effectively five stages and votes before legislation become law.
These are first reading, Select Committee, second reading, Committee of the Whole House and third reading.
The Select Committee received 39,000 submissions and over 14 months heard 1390 oral submissions. These hearings occurred all over New Zealand. It was very disappointing to me that no real change was made to the draft legislation through this process because the committee members could not reach agreement.
I have also met with dozens of people, held a large public meeting and met with doctors, nurses and clergy. In my estimation people are evenly split in their view. In most cases people start off believing in choice but as they understand the process and possible ramifications they get more cautious.
We now know also that NZ First will require a public referendum in exchange for their support. I am a big believer in referendum as a strong part of our democracy. Based on released polling data it may well pass such a test.
As currently written I cannot support the bill. For me the issue is not about personal choice. The scale of the decision to have a life ended is very serious indeed and I value the sanctity of life above all else. I also know massive improvements have been made around palliative care and for most the passing of a loved one, while sad, is still dignified. I am also not satisfied there are enough measures in place to prevent coercion or misuse.
This being said I have been shown and persuaded that for a very small proportion of people their death is difficult because of pain or loss of all dignity. As a result I would like legislation that gives people the knowledge they can be helped in such circumstances.
As a result I have worked with Labour MP Louisa Wall, former Prime Minister Sir Geoffrey Palmer and retired Family Court Judge Paul von Dadelszen to make a small but significant amendment to the bill. If I can get this part through the Parliament I am likely to support the bill at final reading.
This amendment will insert a new decision phase before a person can have assistance to end their life. A Family Court Judge will have to sign off the order and must review advice from the attending physician, potentially talk to the patient and may seek further medical advice.
This process requires the person to be in palliative care and other options to keep the person comfortable have been exhausted. The process will be done in a quick and efficient manner and costs will be funded by the state. The Judge will make the decision in papers without a court process just as is currently done under the Mental Health Act. There will be very limited ability for appeal.
This will bring a formal and final checking process around such a big decision, will remove some of the ethical judgments to be made by doctors and prevent abuse of the system.
This is the third time this issue has been before Parliament in the past 30 years. I want the best legislation possible to be put to the people in a referendum. Throwing it out in a second reading will take the issue away but only for a short time.
While I do not support the legislation as written I do want to give Parliament the chance to amend it at the Committee of the Whole stage. To all those people who submitted this is the least that can be done.
For this reason I voted in support at the second reading to allow me to work to get my colleagues on board for our amendment and make the legislation safer.
• Lawrence Yule is MP for Tukituki