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Referendum explainer: What is the End of Life Choice Act?

Kiwis will be able to vote on whether or not to bring into force the End of Life Choice Act at the referendum.

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1 NEWS online’s political reporter Anna Whyte explains what the proposed law means and what both sides of the issue are saying. Source: 1 NEWS

Parliament has already passed the Act and now it’s up to voters to decide whether it’s put into force during this year’s election.

But what happens if the public votes no or votes yes on October 17?

If the majority say yes, it will lead to those that meet a certain set of criteria being able to request an assisted death.

They would have to be a New Zealander aged over 18, suffering from a terminal illness that’s likely to end their life within six months, be in an advanced state of irreversible physical decline, be experiencing unbearable suffering that cannot be eased in a manner the person considers tolerable and also be competent to make an informed decision.

Reasons that can’t be used to request assisted dying include - being of advanced age, suffering from a mental disorder, or a mental illness or having a disability of any kind.

If a medical or nurse practitioner suspects a person is being pressured into assisted dying, then no further action is allowed.

If the vote is a no that means assisted dying will remain illegal.

The ‘no’ side

Last year, 1500 doctors spoke out against assisted dying signing an open saying they wanted “no part” in it.

Dr Sinead Donnelley of the Care Alliance, who organised a letter of opposition, says some medical professionals don’t want to be involved in ending someone’s life.

“We didn’t train to end someone’s life, we trained to cure if we could and care always,” she said in June 2019.

In February, National MP Agnes Loheni said she “stood very strongly” against the End of Life Choice Act.

“As a Samoan Pacific woman, New Zealander I stand with my community who values life."

The ‘yes’ side

One of those in support of the law is Sir Michael Cullen.

The former Labour Deputy Prime Minister has been diagnosed with stage four cancer and secondary cancer of the liver and believes those who are suffering from a terminal diagnosis should have the right to choose when they die.

“Having the choice is part of having the capacity for a more dignified death," he says.

“It offers to people like me the chance of finishing the life I have enjoyed so much in a way consistent with my moral beliefs and my sense of the dignity of human life.

“You think about what’s going to happen to you, you know there is going to be deterioration, and the last stages aren’t necessarily going to be that pleasant."

Yes for Compassion spokesperson Dr Libby Smales told 1 NEWS in July that euthanasia can be a humane option.

“A horrible death casts a very long shadow - for the families involved it's pretty dreadful,” she says.

What the polls say

If the public votes 'yes' to legalise euthanasia, the End of Life Choice Act would come into force 12 months after the official results are released. If it is voted down by the public, it will be repealed.

The July 1 NEWS Colmar Brunton Poll found 63 per cent intended to vote in favour of euthanasia being legalised and 24 per cent wanted it to remain illegal.

In February 2020, the 1 NEWS Colmar Brunton Poll found 65 per cent intended to vote in for euthanasia to be legalised and 25 per cent intended to vote for it to remain illegal.

The July-August, 2018 1 NEWS Colmar Brunton Poll found 76 per cent agreed with making euthanasia available, with 15 per cent against.

The July 2017 poll had 74 per cent 'yes' and 18 per cent 'no', and the July 2015 poll had 75 per cent 'yes' and 21 per cent 'no'.