Voters will get their first indication of whether euthanasia will be legalised in New Zealand tomorrow.
And in the event of a majority "yes" vote, it would be just over a year before terminal patients are able to request assisted dying.
A "no" vote, on the other hand, would likely consign euthanasia to the political wilderness for at least a few years.
The preliminary results of the euthanasia and cannabis referendums will be released by the Electoral Commission at 2pm tomorrow. The official results will be released a week later, once special votes have been counted.
It will bring to an end a process which began in June 2017, when Act Party leader David Seymour's End of Life Choice Bill was pulled from the private member's ballot.
It has since been debated around the country, in select committees, marae, community halls, and over family dinner tables.
Polls show that a "yes" vote is likely - most have indicated 60 to 70 per cent support for the law change coming into force. However, the timing of the referendum during a period of uncertainty - during a pandemic and economic downturn - has led some to speculate that more New Zealanders than expected would vote for the status quo.
What happens if there is a 'yes' vote?
The End of Life Choice Act has already passed and the referendum is binding.
If a majority of voters ticked "yes", and the result stayed the same after special votes were counted, the law would come into force.
Because the law has already passed through Parliament, no further changes could be made. But it could be amended by future governments. And it would be reviewed after three years, followed by regular five-yearly reviews.
How would it work?
Terminal patients with six months to live would be able to request assisted dying and go ahead with the procedure if they had the approval of two doctors.
They would also need to be:
• in an advanced state of irreversible decline in physical capability
• experiencing unbearable suffering that cannot be relieved in a manner that they consider tolerable
• competent to make an informed decision about dying
And they would not be eligible on the basis of age, mental illness, or disability alone.
Patients would be able to choose to take the lethal dose themselves, or have a doctor administer it.
A person would not be able to write an advance directive that they want an assisted death at a later date. And if at any point a doctor suspects a person is being pressured, they would have to stop the process.
When would it come into force?
November 6, 2021 - a year after the official referendum results are released.
The delay is to allow time for systems to be updated, and for new oversight committees to be set up - including a group which will develop a list of doctors, psychiatrists and pharmacists who are willing to take part in assisted dying.
What happens if there is a 'no' vote?
If a majority of voters ticked "no", the status quo would remain. The End of Life Choice Act would not come into force.
The law would automatically be repealed in November 2024 (five years after it received the Royal Assent).
Voluntary euthanasia and aiding and abetting suicide would remain illegal.
(It is already legal for a patient to ask not to be resuscitated after a medical event, or for life support to be switched off).
It would likely require another private member's bill for legalisation of euthanasia to be considered again in New Zealand.
Successive governments have not shown an appetite for legalising euthanasia, and it has instead fallen to private member's bills to lead reform.
The End of Life Choice Act is the third attempt to legalise euthanasia - previous bills were defeated in 1995 and 2003.
While Labour leader Jacinda Ardern and National leader Judith Collins both personally supported the End of Life Choice Act, neither of their parties has a policy on voluntary euthanasia. And they would be reluctant to legislate for legalisation without a mandate in the referendum.
The Act Party is the only party in Parliament with a euthanasia policy. If the referendum failed, Seymour said he would continue to push for legalisation from the Opposition benches.
The Green Party announced a pro-euthanasia policy in 2016, but did not include that policy in its 2020 manifesto.