We have just seen parliamentary democracy at its best, or as close to the best as I have ever seen it in New Zealand.
The second reading debate on David Seymour's End of Life Choice Bill was a fine display of thoughtful, respectful yet intense disagreement between people who had taken the trouble to listen, learn, think and try to resolve one of the most difficult dilemmas of life and death.
Euthanasia is one of those subjects that easily attract superficial support. It is not until people have to think about all its implications and unintended consequences that it becomes difficult.
Parliamentary democracy, as distinct from direct democracy — elections and referendums — confronts decision makers with all the risks and practical problems. Referenda can be impervious to them — as we have seen with Brexit.
Several times over the years our parliaments have grappled with euthanasia. Each time MPs have considered the implications for the elderly, the disabled, the depressed and backed away. This time might be different.
It is a younger parliament and its Labour leadership is given to making policy for appearances without trying to resolve troublesome technicalities.
Seymour's bill is subject to a free vote of Labour and National MPs and passed its second reading by 70-50. But 17 of the votes for it were not free votes. NZ First and Green members were under party orders to support it at this stage.
So long as the bill is amended at the next stage to be restricted to the terminally ill (Greens) and subject to a referendum (NZ First), those MPs probably will be obliged to support it right through.
A referendum is simply Winston Peters' usual proposal when Parliament faces a contentious issue. He knows euthanasia easily gets majority support in public polls.
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Expressed in simple terms, it has a compelling logic. Do you think people should have the right to die with a doctor's help at a time of their choosing? Hell yes. Why not? It should be a human right.
There is not much doubt that level of thinking would ensure it passed a referendum, probably by a hefty margin.
Quite likely voters would support going much further than Parliament is going to go now that Seymour has agreed to reduce the scope of his bill.
Restricting euthanasia to the terminally ill will mean it is not to be available also for a "grievous and irremediable medical condition".
Many people will reasonably ask, if the terminally ill can get a release from their misery why should the right be denied to others who might be in just as much physical pain or mental anguish?
In fact the main reason most people support euthanasia today is fear of that malady of modern longevity, dementia. They will be disappointed to discover Seymour's bill requires an applicant to be of sound mind.
The person must be capable of making a decision, not in a state of despair and satisfy at least two medical practitioners they are competent and remain so from the time they make the decision until the moment they take the lethal prescription.
Those conditions appear so restrictive that the bill might not have much initial effect. But once the principle of euthanasia is accepted it will be practically impossible to limit its application, as its advocates well know.
Seymour is making a tactical retreat to establish a right that before long would be extended by remorseless logic. That is one of the reasons 50 MPs voted against the bill last Wednesday night.
Six of them had changed their minds since its first reading. Others are wavering. If another 11 MPs think again, the bill will be defeated.
Its opponents have thought carefully about the nature of human rights. We are not isolated individuals, the rights we claim can have a powerful influence on the rights of others whose circumstances are different.
To establish a right to die could reduce others' right to live. A person whose quality of life is lower than anyone would like and needs others' help to live would no longer have the dignity and comfort of knowing they can do nothing about the hand life has dealt them.
They know they are a burden to others and they would no longer have the consolation of knowing they could not help being so.
The MPs who spoke about this the other night cited the incidence of elder abuse they encounter in their electorates and pressure that might come from families facing costs of aged care. I think the pressure is as likely to be internalised.
If euthanasia is available, some people with a will to live will feel they have no right to live.
That's why I think it would be a tragedy to make the end of life a matter of choice.