New Zealand has voted to legalise euthanasia for terminally ill patients following a referendum that was part of this month’s general election, the country’s electoral commission announced on Friday, BBC reported. The referendum is binding and the law is expected to come into effect in November 2021.
More than 65% of voters backed the End of Life Choice Bill, which allows assisted dying for people with terminal illnesses subject to a range of conditions and safeguards, the preliminary results showed. Nearly four lakh votes have yet to be counted and the final results will be released on November 6.
But with such strong support, experts said the decision is not expected to change. The law is also backed by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who was re-elected in a landslide victory, and opposition leader Judith Collins.
ACT political party, whose leader David Seymour, sponsored the End of Life Choice Act, said the bill was “a victory for compassion and kindness”.
“New Zealand has become a more compassionate and humane society,” the party said in a Facebook post. “Thousands of New Zealanders who might have suffered excruciating deaths will have choice, dignity, control, and autonomy over their own bodies, protected by the rule of law.”
The law contains several stipulations for those eligible to receive “assisted dying,” according to CNN.
The person must be a New Zealand citizen or permanent resident over the age of 18 with a terminal illness “likely to end the person’s life within 6 months”. They should be in an “advanced state of irreversible decline in physical capability”; and experiencing “unbearable suffering that cannot be relieved in a manner that the person considers tolerable”.
The person will be evaluated by multiple medical professionals, including one appointed by the government. Besides this, doctors and nurses will be barred from starting the conversation about assisted dying. The law states that health practitioners are not obligated to assist people who wish to die if they have a conscientious objection.
Assisted suicide and euthanasia are only legal in a handful of countries and jurisdictions around the world, including Switzerland, the Netherlands, and Canada.
In a separate non-binding referendum held at the same time, New Zealanders narrowly rejected a proposal to legalise recreational cannabis with 53.1% of them saying “no” to it.