Lawmakers in New Zealand backed a bill that would legalize euthanasia, but only if endorsed by voters in a referendum next year. Candidates would only be eligible for euthanasia if they had less than six months to live.
A bill allowing euthanasia passed the New Zealand parliament on Wednesday, following two years of public debate. The country's authorities are due to hold a national referendum on the issue before the bill's provisions go into effect.
Critics of the bill previously slammed the initiative, with some claiming that elderly patients faced danger of being coerced into ending their lives. The proposal has since been amended with a number of safeguards. In its present form, it only allows euthanasia for people who have been diagnosed with a terminal illness, experience "unbearable suffering" and are estimated to have fewer than six months to live.
The patients would be required to suggest the ending of life first, and two doctors must agree that the patient is well informed and other criteria were met.
PM Ardern supportive, but Labour divided
"It's entirely about choice," the lawmaker sponsoring the bill, David Saymor, said on Wednesday.
"It makes me proud of our country that we can have this debate, and we can actually get progress, and become a more free and compassionate society," added Saymor, who is the only representative of the libertarian ACT Party In the 120-seat assembly.
In turn, opposition National Party lawmaker Maggie Barry slammed the bill as "dangerous and permissive" and said that it would bring back state-sanctioned killing.
Barry also said it was important to stop the bill at the upcoming referendum.
The ruling Labour party is split on the bill. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern voted in favor of it on Wednesday, but had previously said he would prefer to have euthanasia legalized in parliament and not put to a general vote.
"My view is that a referendum isn't required to ensure that the voice of New Zealanders has been heard and to reflect the will of Parliament and the people they represent," Ardern was quoted as saying by the New Zealand Herald in January.
Cannabis and euthanasia
The bill passed with 69 of the deputies voting in favor and 51 against it. On Wednesday, Saymor said the bill had "overwhelming support" among the public.
The exact date for the referendum was not immediately known. The authorities are likely to join the vote with a general election expected in November. A similar referendum on legalizing recreational cannabis will also be held on the same day.
Several countries have already legalized euthanasia, which is conducted by a healthcare professional, or medically assisted suicide, a process whereby patients enlist a doctor's help before taking a lethal dose of medication themselves. Belgium, Canada, Colombia, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and several US states all have their versions of the legislation.
dj/msh (Reuters, AP)