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New Zealanders will likely be asked to decide whether euthanasia should be legal in a referendum at the 2020 election after a tight vote in Parliament.
David Seymour's End of Life Choice Bill was amended on Wednesday night to include a binding referendum on whether it should come into force, by a knife-edge vote of 66 to 54. (See also the Hansard report on Parliament's website.)The referendum is not certain as the bill still has to make it through a third reading vote next month.
But the referendum gives it a much higher chance of passing as it keeps NZ First on board with the legislation.
The bill would allow the terminally ill to request assisted dying from their doctors under specific circumstances.
Seymour mostly kept together his coalition that helped him pass the second reading of the bill, although 10 previous "yes" votes voted against the referendum, while three previous "no" votes voted for it.
A majority of Labour MPs (28) voted for the referendum, including leader Jacinda Ardern. A majority of National MPs (39) voted against it, including leader Simon Bridges.
Seymour struck a deal with NZ First early in the bill's passage to get the party's support for the bill in exchange for the referendum.
He and many other supporters of the bill are not generally supportive of the bill being a referendum, but understood the need for it to go to one in order to pass the next vote.
"This referendum clause is critical to keeping a coalition of MPs to be able to give people choice at the end of their life," Seymour said at the opening of the debate.
Labour MP and supporter of the bill Kieran McAnulty said he didn't support the referendum but would support it to give the bill a shot at becoming law.
"I think of other issues that have faced this country over time: the right to give women the vote, for example. If that was put to a referendum, that probably wouldn't have passed. The Homosexual Law Reform Act: if that was put to a referendum, that probably wouldn't have passed," McAnulty said.
"In a perfect world, I would have voted "no" on a referendum. But what I need to weigh up is in sticking to that principle which I believe in, can I then, in good conscience, see this bill fail? I cannot. So I will be voting for this referendum, because I am a bookmaker and I know how to count, and I know that if the referendum Supplementary Order Paper fails, so too does the bill, and in good conscience I can't let that happen."
National and Labour MPs are allowed to vote freely on the bill as a conscience issue, while Green and NZ First MPs voted as a bloc to support it.
Since the referendum question will simply ask if "the End of Life Choice Bill" should become law many opponents of the bill argued that its name should be changed to make what the bill legalised clearer.
National MP Tim Macindoe drafted a failed amendment that would rename the bill the "Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide Act 2019".
National's Chris Penk, a strong opponent of the bill, said the title needed to be free from euphemism.
"So if there is ever a situation in which it would make sense to have a bill with a title that does what it says on the tin—notwithstanding the provisions within the Act or the bill—then this would be that situation," Penk said.
Maggie Barry, another National MP strongly against the bill, said the title was "misleading and euphemistic".
NZ First MP Jenny Marcroft, whose amendment added the referendum, said it was key that such a change to the "fabric of society" should go to the public.
"We believe that temporarily empowered politicians, which we all are in this chamber, alone should not decide on this bill, but we should have the courage to allow the voting public to participate in this conversation," Marcroft said.
Supporter of the bill Labour MP Willie Jackson said he was struggling to work out whether to support the referendum or not.
"Referendums do not treat minorities well," Jackson said.
Labour MP Louisa Wall directly criticised NZ First for putting MPs who supported the bill but were against a referendum in an "untenable" position.
"I can't in good conscience, even though I 100 per cent support the bill," Wall said.
"My principles will not let me vote for the referendum. Even if it means the bill fails."
"It seems inconceivable that [NZ First] would say to this House that 'Unless you vote for this referendum we will vote this down at third reading.' I think that is appalling. That is abhorrent. We have been engaging in a good faith discussion on this since 1995."
Seymour said he was relieved after the vote but a big battle remained at third reading next month.
Long-time proponent of the bill and former Labour MP Maryan Street said she wasn't scared of the bill going to a referendum as many polls showed the public would support it.
"I don't fear a referendum. Every poll in New Zealand has had 70-75 per cent support in favour. I have no fear,' Street said.
The End of Life Choice bill was first put into the ballot by Seymour in 2015 and has had a tortured journey through Parliament, including a 16-month select committee process.
WHO VOTED HOW:
Labour (29): ARDERN Jacinda, DAVIS Kelvin, LITTLE Andrew, ROBERTSON Grant, WOODS Megan, HIPKINS Chris, SEPULONI Carmel Jean, PARKER David, NASH Stuart, HUO Raymond, LEES-GALLOWAY Iain Francis, TINETTI Jan, PRIME Willow-Jean, FAAFOI Kris, ALLAN Kiri, CURRAN Clare, DYSON Ruth, ANDERSEN Ginny, LUXTON Jo RUSSELL Deborah, CRAIG Liz, LUBECK Marja, EAGLE Paul, McANULTY Kieran, RADHAKRISHNAN Priyanca, WARREN-CLARK Angie, O'CONNOR Greg, HENARE Peeni, WEBB Duncan.
National (15): BENNETT Paula, ADAMS Amy, KAYE Nikki, COLLINS Judith, MITCHELL Mark, BENNETT David, SIMPSON Scott, KURIGER Barbara, DOOCEY Matt, YANG Jian, BISHOP Chris, KING Matt, FALLOON Andrew, STANFORD Erica, YULE Lawrence.
NZ First (9): PETERS Winston, MARK Ron, MARTIN Tracey, TABUTEAU Fletcher, BALL Darroch, MITCHELL Clayton, PATTERSON Mark JONES Shane, MARCROFT Jenny.
Green (8): SHAW James DAVIDSON Marama, GENTER Julie Anne, SAGE Eugenie, HUGHES Gareth, LOGIE Jan, SWARBRICK Chlöe, GHAHRAMAN Golriz.
ACT (1): SEYMOUR David.
Independent (1): ROSS Jami-Lee.
Labour (17): TWYFORD Phil, CLARK David,=sum SIO Aupito Tofae Sua William, O'CONNOR Damien, SALESA Jenny, JACKSON Willie, WILLIAMS Poto, WALL Louisa, WOOD Michael Philip, MALLARD Trevor, COFFEY Tamati, STRANGE Jamie, KANONGATA'A-SUISUIKI Anahila, MAHUTA Nanaia, WHATIRI Meka, RURAWHE Adrian, TIRIKATENE Rino.
National (40): CARTER David, PUGH Maureen, BROWNLEE Gerry, BRIDGES Simon, LOHENI Agnes, WOODHOUSE Michael, TOLLEY Anne, GUY Nathan, McCLAY Todd, SMITH Nick, BARRY Maggie, GOLDSMITH Paul, UPSTON Louise, NGARO Alfred, WAGNER Nicky, DEAN Jacqui, HUDSON Brett, LEE Melissa, BAKSHI Kanwaljit Singh, PARMAR Parmjeet, YOUNG Jonathan, HAYES Jo, McKELVIE Ian, O'CONNOR Simon, BAYY Andrew, DOWIE Sarah, MULLER Todd, RETI Shane, SCOTT Alastair, SMITH Stuart, BROWN Simeon, HIPANGO Harete, LEE Denise, PENK Chris, VAN de MOLEN Tim, WALKER Hamish, GARCIA Paulo, WILLIS Nicola, BIDOIS Dan.
The bill has faced strong opposition from a number of MPs, including National's Chris Penk.
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