Politics

When I vote next month, it will be for assisted dying

Matt Vickers, author of Lecretia’s Choice, has been an outspoken advocate for a new assisted dying law. Here he looks at the parties’ positions with that priority in mind.

If assisted dying is in any way important to you, it is likely to influence how you vote in the upcoming general election. Unfortunately, a number of politicians and parties have avoided taking a position on the issue. Nevertheless, there are some voting strategies available to ensure that assisted dying has the best chance of being passed into law.

David Seymour’s End of Life Choice Bill is critical to this effort. Beyond this bill, there are no obvious routes to assisted dying legislation short of a complete change of government and that government agreeing to take it up as an issue. Thus, the composition of the next parliament is critical to the End of Life Choice Bill’s success.

I support Seymour’s return to parliament as the sponsor of this bill. It’s worth noting, however, that should he not return, all is not lost. Now that the bill is on the order paper, it is possible for any elected member to adopt the bill as it passes through the legislative process should it lose its sponsor.

However there is a risk that the bill may be taken up by someone less enthusiastic or less competent. There is no greater proof of Seymour’s commitment than his giving up a ministerial post in December 2015, to ensure the bill could be in the member’s ballot. He remains the best person to take the bill forward.

From a party perspective, the choices are clear. This is not so much a left-right issue as it is a social liberties issue, and that political inclination runs through both sides of the house. It is most apparent, however, in parties like Labour, ACT, and the Greens.

Matt Vickers’ wife Lecretia Seales, who died in 2015, was a campaigner for reform on assisted dying. Photo: Lecretia.org

Though National has its moderate progressives, particularly in individuals like Nikki Kaye, Chris Bishop, Jami-Lee Ross and Brett Hudson, it is still overwhelmingly populated by socially conservative individuals who are comfortable with restricting personal freedoms for dogmatic reasons. Though I can unequivocally support the election or reelection of the MPs above, and MPs like them, I cannot recommend a vote for the National Party, and if like me you think this issue should be a priority, I would in particular caution against voting for Bill English, Simon O’Connor, Gerry Brownlee, Shane Reti, Jonathan Young, Michael Woodhouse, Sarah Dowie, Maureen Pugh, Todd Muller, Alastair Scott, Christopher Finlayson, Maggie Barry and new Helensville candidate Chris Penk. A vote for any of these MPs would be a vote against assisted dying, and many other socially progressive issues besides.

A recent Horizon poll indicated that support for assisted dying is actually highest among National voters, at 83% support. Why some of their MPs are so unwilling to represent the desires and beliefs of their constituents is a source of frustration.

To ACT’s credit, it has begun to return to its roots under David Seymour, correcting the sharp turn it took into social conservatism with its appointment of John Banks as its Epsom candidate, perhaps New Zealand’s most notoriously conservative politician. Seymour recently accepted a petition on the liberalisation of New Zealand’s abortion law, another pro-choice issue that needs wider support. Though he is likely to return to parliament alone, any MPs who joined him would almost certainly support this bill.

On the other side of the House, things are much more clear cut. Jacinda Ardern has lent her support to the bill, and most Labour MPs have indicated that they would likely vote yes at first reading at least. Electoral candidates Meka Whaitiri, David Clark and Rino Tirikatene are the known exceptions.

The Greens are the only party in the election to have a formal policy on assisted dying, supporting its introduction for the terminally ill, provided sufficient safeguards can be established. This does mean that the End of Life Choice Bill as currently drafted is broader than they would like. However, they would have the opportunity to review the bill’s scope at first reading, so one would hope they vote it through to select committee stage. It would be a major upset if they didn’t.

Although the Greens usually vote as a bloc, they are more likely to treat this bill as a conscience issue. I was deeply disappointed with Metiria Turei’s resignation, as not only is she an effective MP and incredibly brave in raising welfare as an issue using her own experiences as an example, she was also a strong ally in support of this bill. It’s my hope that the Greens will continue the work of Turei and also former MP Kevin Hague in making a success of this latest attempt at legalisation.

Should The Opportunities Party cross the 5% threshold, it is highly likely it would throw its support behind the End Of Life Choice Bill. The Gareth Morgan Foundation has written in support of assisted dying, and given their bias towards evidence-based policy, and given that the majority of available evidence supports its introduction, it is hard to see them voting against it. Unfortunately for TOP, 5% is still a significant hurdle for them to cross.

As for the other parties, the Māori Party, though open to dialogue on the matter, have reiterated that they are unlikely to support this bill. Neither United Future, the Conservatives nor the Mana Party are likely to support the issue either, but nor are they likely to return to parliament.

Finally there’s New Zealand First. They have consistently maintained that the issue should go to referendum. Although a referendum might pass, it would come down to its wording. Given the very skewed wording of the Health Select Committee’s terms of reference on the inquiry into assisted dying, I would be very skeptical that such a referendum would be worded well. Nor would it adequately capture the subtleties around safeguards and process which are extremely important in legislation like this. The referendum would also be non-binding, meaning its results could be ignored by the government of the day. Despite New Zealand First being closely associated with the two previous attempts to pass assisted dying laws in New Zealand, via Michael Laws and Peter Brown, the New Zealand First party of today appears to be much more cynical and opportunistic than it used to be.

It’s a shame, because according to the same Horizon poll from May, assisted dying actually sees its highest support among voters age between 65 and 74 years old, at 82% supporting and 8% opposed. That age group forms much of NZ First’s base. That degree of support would give most parties a high level of comfort in taking a much more constructive position. But NZ First isn’t most parties.

I hope they will respect the parliamentary process and vote according to conscience when the End of Life Choice Bill appears at first reading. However, voting for their MPs or their party in the belief they will support this issue is a highly risky proposition, given the position they’ve taken.

In summary, a party vote for Labour, ACT, or the Greens should ensure assisted dying stands the best chance of being legalised via the introduction of the End of Life Choice Bill. When it comes to electorate MPs, there are candidates in all the major parties that support it, but one has to be particularly careful when voting for National candidates as there are more against the bill in that party than for it.


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