Anti-euthanasia campaigner Vicki Walsh, who has terminal cancer, and her husband Dave, were at Parliament today to try to convince MPs not to  vote for assisted dying. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Anti-euthanasia campaigner Vicki Walsh, who has terminal cancer, and her husband Dave, were at Parliament today to try to convince MPs not to vote for assisted dying. Photo / Mark Mitchell

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NZ Herald: Anti-euthanasia campaigners spend afternoon at Parliament

By Lucy Bennett and Mark Mitchell.

People with disabilities and terminal illnesses spent the afternoon at Parliament today in a last-ditch bid to convince MPs to vote against the End of Life Choice Bill. The controversial Bill, in the name of Act leader David Seymour, is due to have its second reading soon.

It passed its first reading 76 votes to 44, by conscience vote, and Seymour is confident it will pass its second reading.

If the Bill passes into law, it would allow people, under strict medical circumstances, to choose to end their lives through assisted dying.

Opponents worry people could be coerced into the decision or make it for the wrong reasons such as loneliness.

A record 39,000 submissions were made to the justice select committee which considered the Bill and reported back last month with only minor technical changes.

That leaves MPs to debate the issue.

Members of the #DefendNZ movement, which opposes euthanasia, invited MPs to speak to them during their visit to Parliament in a bid to persuade them to vote against the Bill.

Henoch Kloosterboer, the creative director of a five-part video series featuring some of those at Parliament today, said while the submission process was "incredible", it didn't allow some people to be heard.

"It's all well and good to hear a submission or read a submission but it doesn't necessarily really convey the impact of that choice."

One of the people who features in the video series is Palmerston North woman Vicki Walsh, who has a brain tumour similar to that suffered by Wellington lawyer Lecretia Seales, who died in 2017.

Seales went to the High Court in 2015 seeking the ability to receive assisted suicide from her doctor but lost her case.

Walsh, who was diagnosed in 2011 at age 43 and given 12-14 months to live, told the Herald she worried about the messages the End of Life Choice Bill would send to people with conditions like hers.

She travelled from her home with her husband Dave, who was with her at Parliament as she and other campaigners mingled with other supporters and MPs.

Walsh said that once she outlived her prognosis, she felt vulnerable. At one point she decided to end her life but couldn't go through with it.

"I started to appreciate things about my life that I didn't think I would. I learned how to knit again, things I couldn't do after I first had strokes. I realised the appreciation of people, of kindness, of looking after vulnerable people. I've learned to love life in a totally different way."

Walsh said she wanted MPs to think about the long-term consequences if the Bill were to pass.

"It's not likely to affect me. But my grandchildren, my grandchildren's children, this will become normality if this was to pass. We're teaching them that when life gets too hard you can opt out.

"I'm scared of the can of worms that this opens."

Others who feature in the video series and were at Parliament today included tetraplegic model Claire Freeman and Kylee Black, who suffers from a rare and incurable connective tissue disorder.

Kloosterboer said supporters included lawyers, doctors and bioethicists.

The movement also has the backing of high-profile figures including former health minister Dame Tariana Turia and Lady Mary English, a Wellington GP.

Seymour has said he will put forward amendments to the Bill which he has already flagged in his report to the committee in December.

They include the provision for a binding referendum at the next election; limiting eligibility to terminal illness only; stating that access to assisted dying cannot be by reason of mental health conditions, age, or disability only and expanding membership of the group willing to participate in voluntary assisted dying to include nurses, Māori and Pasifika representatives, and disabled persons representatives.

The Bill is likely to come back for its second reading on May 22 but debate may begin as early as tomorrow.

Watch Vicki’s documentary in widescreen and read her complete story here.

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