By Jenny Marcroft, New Zealand First List MP, Spokesperson for Health.
New Zealand First believes the issue of assisted dying directly affects the fabric of society, and is one that temporarily empowered politicians alone should not decide upon.
This week, I submitted an amendment to David Seymour’s End of Life Choice Bill to provide for a binding public referendum at the 2020 election.
The details of Mr Seymour’s bill may change, but at present would allow New Zealand citizens and residents over 18 suffering from a terminal illness that is expected to end their life within 6 months, and those who have grievous and irremediable medical conditions, the option of requesting assisted dying.
The parliamentary debate around the issue has been unusually respectful.
Parties have worked, for the most part, constructively together in scrutinising the bill and giving voice to those who have concerns about the legislation in its current form.
But where New Zealand First departs from other parties is who should be making this decision in the first place. New Zealand First’s further support of the bill is conditional on the amendment, providing for a referendum, passing. We believe, and have always believed, that deciding upon matters of conscience, such as issues pertaining to life, death and marriage, drug liberalisation and the electoral system, requires the direct participation of the public.
Simply put, we do not believe that the conscience of 120 individual Members of Parliament is representative of the conscience of the country as a whole. An individual MPs’ conscience vote is just that: a vote, for or against a bill, according to that individual’s conscience, which is informed by their personal experiences and sometimes, their religious beliefs.
We live in a representative democracy.
That means most parliamentary business can and should be dealt with by MPs as the public’s representatives, who have the time, resources and expertise to consider issues on the public’s behalf.
But conscience issues such as this one go right to the heart of who we are as New Zealanders and who we are as a nation, and strike at many peoples’ most deeply held beliefs. No polling agency would consider the views of 120 people to be representative of the views of the country as a whole, and on matters such as this, neither do we.
We believe that the voice of the people.
The voice of the people by means of referenda should, where possible and practicable, replace MPs’ conscience votes.
It is frankly insulting that many of our elected representatives do not believe the public are capable of making a decision about assisted dying in New Zealand.
We trusted the public in 1992 and 1993 to decide upon the similarly complex matter of the reform of our electoral system that introduced MMP. A more diverse, representative and effective Parliament resulted. We trusted them then, and we can trust them now.
It is, of course, New Zealand First’s expectation that a comprehensive informational and educational campaign is undertaken to assist the public’s decision-making on this issue.
If a referendum does go ahead, I am sure all parliamentary parties would have an interest in ensuring the public is equipped with all the information needed to make an informed decision about Mr Seymour’s bill.
Armed with the information they need, New Zealanders will have their say, or we will withdraw our support. We urge all members of the House to turn to the collective wisdom of the New Zealand public on this matter.
Jenny Marcroft is New Zealand First List MP and Spokesperson for Health.