Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Opinion: Community debate at its best

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Few issues are as controversial as a conscience vote in Parliament involving life and death. A vote which will be difficult for many of the 120 MPs that have to vote on the End of Life Choice Bill again before the end of this year.

Earlier this week I hosted a public meeting and debate on this Bill. It’s a proposal that would effectively legalise voluntary euthanasia, or assisted dying.

The End of Life Choice Bill has evoked strong opinions in both opposition and support of the ideas it confronts.

The Bill, in the name of ACT’s David Seymour, is what we call a conscience issue for Parliament. This means that your local representatives are not bound to vote down political party lines. Instead, it is our job to listen and attempt to reflect the values and positions we believe exist within our communities.

Parliament is often said to be at its best when MPs have a free vote. We see well-researched and argued points, delivered with passion and meaning. The shackles of the party whips are dropped, and the normally forgone conclusion of votes disappears.
Public debate in the community is also stronger when the public and decision makers are able to come face to face with each other. That’s what we did on Monday.

Speaking at the meeting we had the Bill’s sponsor, David Seymour, speaking in favour of the Bill. My colleague for Helensville, Chris Penk, argued in opposition.

In favour of the Bill, it was argued that the current law is unjust and forces people into harmful circumstances that undermine their dignity at the end of their life. Moreover, there were amble safeguards in place in the Bill to ensure that the decision and circumstances where such choices were made were true reflections of the individual making them.

In opposition, it was argued that the nature of the choice being made was open to undue influence and coercion. Essentially, that it was very hard to tell whether a good decision was being made and the consequence was irreversible and, in that context, the decision could never have enough safeguards.

The 150 or so New Zealanders sitting in the room on Monday will have heard canvassed one of the more challenging topics we will confront this year. It’s one where it’s impossible to please everyone, but I am glad we were able to put on such an event to listen, learn and engage.

Jami-Lee Ross
MP for Botany

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