WELLINGTON: New Zealand lawmakers narrowly backed a plan on Wednesday (Oct 23) to hold a referendum on legalising euthanasia alongside next year's general election.
The proposal to put the issue to a public vote passed 63-57 during a heated late-night debate in parliament.
It means when Kiwis go to the polls late next year they will not only be voting for their preferred government but also on two referendums – one on legalising euthanasia and the other on allowing recreational marijuana use.
While a final vote to confirm a referendum on the End of Life Choice Bill will be held in November, it is considered a formality after the plan won crucial backing from the New Zealand First (NZF) Party.
"This is an emotive topic. It's a divisive topic … but we should have the courage to allow the voting public to participate in this conversation," NZF's Jenny Marcroft told parliament.
NZF had threatened to pull support for the bill if the referendum proposal was rejected and parliament tried to simply pass the legislation.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has publicly stated her support for euthanasia reform and reluctantly voted for the referendum, saying earlier this week that it was the only way of advancing the legislation.
Members of Ardern's centre-left Labour Party were given a conscience vote on the issue, as were members of parliament's largest party, the conservative Nationals.
National lawmaker Harete Hipango described the euthanasia legislation as "abhorrent, repugnant and also dangerous".