Even the most casual observer of the New Zealand political scene could not fail to notice the recent surge in support for David Seymour and his resuscitated Act party.
Some of this recent support has obviously come from disaffected supporters of other parties. Others may have been swayed by Seymour's impish likeability and his willingness to give anything a go.
His most significant political achievement, though, has been to oversee the navigation of the End of Life Choice Act through the rocky channels of our parliamentary processes to the point where he now needs only the barest of majorities in the forthcoming referendum to be able to claim a victory.
While the Act Party may have received the kiss of life because of Seymour's redoubtable efforts, others will soon be considered eligible to receive the kiss of death if the Seymour legislation is voted into effect.
The last person to be killed in New Zealand under authority of law was Walter James Bolton, who died by hanging on February 18, 1957. Four years later, in 1961, the death penalty was abolished for every crime except treason. After another 18 years, the abolition process was completed.
No-one now has authority to order the killing of any New Zealander, even for high treason.
Absent a guilty plea, under the old process an execution could take place only after a full trial with a jury in a superior court of law and with extensive rights to have the conviction reviewed on appeal.
Under the process prescribed in the Seymour legislation, no court order will be required, no judge will oversee any part of the process, and the decision to administer, or provide, a lethal dose of poison will be made solely on the assessment of two doctors, sometimes with assistance from a psychiatrist.
The crime for which Bolton was executed in 1957 was murder. The jury found he had poisoned his wife, but the verdict may have been based on a mistake of fact which could not later be reversed.
At that time, it would have been unthinkable for any private individual to be given lawful authority to kill another human being by administering a poison. An execution with no court process or judicial oversight would undoubtedly have been regarded as a reprehensible outrage.
In 2020, however, a new set of social values has come into play. Human life seems to be less valued and personal freedom is often regarded as an overwhelming trump card.
This, indeed, is the primary value that underpins the political philosophy of David Seymour and his acolytes from the gun lobby: less government intervention and greater personal freedom.
As Janis Joplin sang so passionately in her epic version of Bobby McGee, sometimes freedom can be just another word for nothing left to lose. But wars have been fought over freedom, and the precious liberties we enjoy in this country have been bought with the blood of our forebears.
It is a treasure, a taonga, to be guarded at all costs.
Freedom has its limits, though. We cannot justify using the privileges of our own personal freedom to harm others. Killing another human being can be justified only in the rarest of circumstances; self-defence for example.
Committing suicide is not unlawful; but encouraging or assisting suicide has long been a serious crime.
Traditionally, the law has carefully drawn the line between freedom of choice about ending one's own life and causing or assisting the death of another human being. The Seymour legislation blurs this important distinction under the twin banners of free choice and compassion. These are seductive concepts and David Seymour knows how to shape public opinion by employing them.
Any attempt to show that his suicide legislation is flawed will be met with a now-predictable response: you are trying to impose your beliefs on other people; you are trying to restrict our freedom to choose. In short, you are an ideological bigot.
The Seymour strategy is thus to keep the focus firmly on freedom of choice and to avoid, like the plague, any serious attempt to question whether the legislation contains safeguards that are truly adequate to protect vulnerable people from pressure, bullying and coercion.
The reality is that the legislation contains no meaningful safeguards of that kind. The requesting person's doctor is required to make only two specific inquiries. They must confer with other health practitioners who are in regular contact with the person (if any) and must confer with members of the person's family who are approved by the person (if any).
By taking only those two meagre steps, the doctor is supposed to "do their best" to ensure that the requesting person has expressed their wish to die free from pressure from any other person.
Neither of the two required steps could conceivably be described as adequate to detect coercion. The second doctor has no role at all in relation to coercion. The only other relevant safeguard in the legislation is that, if the doctor or nurse suspects on reasonable grounds that the requesting person is not expressing their wish free from pressure from any other person, the assisted dying process must be stopped.
This protection would be triggered only if some information were to emerge fortuitously. It does not amount to an independent coercion assessment.
David Seymour repeatedly asserts that his legislation has ample safeguards to protect vulnerable people. By definition, to be eligible for assisted dying the requesting person must necessarily be in an extremely vulnerable state.
Someone needs to ask David Seymour to explain exactly how his legislation adequately protects the vulnerable. There is only one correct answer to that question: it doesn't.
To give every New Zealand doctor a licence to kill would lead to the first state-sanctioned deaths since 1957. To do so without anxiously ensuring that the process is watertight would constitute a grievous stain on the integrity of our nation.
• Grant Illingworth, QC, is an Auckland lawyer.