New Zealanders voted on cannabis and euthanasia measures during the federal election on Oct. 17. Credit: Mark Baker/Associated Press

Voters in New Zealand, on referendums conducted this month, approved the right to assisted death for terminally ill patients, and voted against the legalization of recreational marijuana. These two social questions were posed to the public on the ballot during New Zealand’s general election vote on 17th October, which gave Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern a landslide victory for another term. The provisional results of the referendums were announced Friday, and do not yet include overseas votes.

65 percent of New Zealanders voted to allow voluntary euthanasia, or the right to assisted suicide for the terminally ill. Given the percentage of votes in favour of the decision, additional overseas votes will not impact the verdict.

The referendum is the result of a years long campaign in New Zealand supporting the right to voluntary death for chronically ill patients living in pain. The New Zealand parliament had passed a bill—the “End of Life Choice Bill”— in 2019 to legalize euthanasia, but its ratification depended on a 50 percent vote through a public referendum. The ballot question on euthanasia had been publicly supported by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, and also had the support of the opposition leadership. The decisive results of the vote make New Zealand the seventh country in the world to have legalized euthanasia. The law is likely to come into effect by November 2021.

To be eligible for assisted suicide, patients must be over 18 years of age and have the signed consent of two doctors. The patients must also have significant and ongoing decline in physical health, have less than six months to live, and be experiencing “unbearable suffering that cannot be eased” through any manner apart from death.

The result of the referendum has been called “a victory for compassion and kindness.”

According to lawmaker David Seymour of the libertarian ACT Party: “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 second ballot question, however, resulted in a close vote, with 56 percent rejecting the proposal to legalize marijuana. The final result, to be announced on 6th November, still has room to be impacted by yet uncounted overseas votes, which number around 48,000.

Jacinda Ardern has been criticised by proponents of legalization for not publicly sharing her stance on the vote prior to the referendum. Ardern, who has been vocal on her stance on euthanasia in the past, could have impacted public opinion enough to influence the close outcome the vote. She announced after the referendum that she had voted “yes” on both ballots.


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