A controversial bill to provide individuals with a choice to end their lives has gathered strong support at a public meeting in Tauranga.
Labour MP Maryan Street led yesterday's meeting and discussed her End of Life Choice Bill, which would give people with terminal illnesses or irreversible conditions the right to die with dignity.
"I watched my mother die at home from bowel cancer and I watched my sister die at home from Motor Neuron Disease, not that either of them would have used this legislation but that the whole point, if they had wanted to they wouldn't have been able to so this legislation will help people to make their own decision how and when they want to die.
"It's not a doctor's decision to shorten a life or prolong their suffering ... it's up to the person and they should have this right," she said.
The End of Life Choice Bill includes safeguards to ensure the law would not be abused. It also includes safeguards from prosecution for family members and medical practitioners who participated in the process.
"The process in this bill is much more rigorous that the exercising of the right people already have in law, to refuse medical treatment, resuscitation, food or water, a lawful process which permits a much less compassionate and humane form of dying," she said.
"Some people might think this is a slippery slope and the intention here is that people will be able to dispose of an elderly relative or someone with a disability but this is not the case. I have gone through everything that I can think of to ensure protection and prevent abuse and issues of this happening."
Two similar bills have gone before Parliament before and failed. The first in 1995 which was rejected by two-thirds of voters and again in 2003 which was rejected after a result of 60:58.
Since the last vote eight years ago, Ms Street said the attitudes of the New Zealand public had changed and she believed the country was ready for the bill.
One of the guests at the meeting said she would like to have the right to decide to die, should she be put in a situation where it deemed necessary. The woman, who did not want to be named, said: "It's my life and it's my choice, not anyone else's."
Most of the people at the meeting were members of the Bay of Plenty branch of the Voluntary Euthanasia Society of NZ.
President Des Vise said there was a lot of support for assisted dying in Tauranga and evidence of this could be seen in the recent creation of the local support group.
"I've always felt there was a lot of support for this in Tauranga ... and the fact we do now exist as a Bay of Plenty branch, with about 100 members, incidentally shows growing support in the Bay."
Reverend Marie Gilpin had led thousands of funerals and visited many terminally ill patients in her 30 years of celebrant work.
From her experiences, giving someone the choice to die would take away the chance for people to say goodbye to their loved ones and could leave families feeling guilty, wondering if the right decision was made or even implicated in the death.
"Lots of people say they're ready to die but I haven't heard anyone say I wish someone would end it," Ms Gilpin said.
"I don't agree with it." Pastor Tessa Cameron of C3 Church in Tauranga said Ms Street's bill promoted the idea to end the life of people who were disabled, unwell or elderly.
"From my point of view this takes away the value put on life and as soon as someone says that life isn't worth living, it creates a slippery slope where that if life isn't a certain way you have the choice to end it," Ms Cameron said.
"Life is a gift and it's God's gift to us. He loves us for the life that we live and for who we are, even if we're not perfect or broken, we must live life the way we can."