New Zealand has become one of a handful of countries to legalize euthanasia after voters approved a referendum to allow assisted dying for those suffering from a terminal illness.
The law, which comes into effect in November 2021, will make it legal for patients with less than six months to live to request a medically-assisted death. The patient will need the approval of two doctors before undergoing the life-ending procedure.
New Zealanders voted on the issue during the October 17 general election. Preliminary results announced on Friday by the country’s electoral commission showed 65.2 percent signing off on the initiative, while 33.8 percent rejected it. Full results will be released on November 6, as officials are still tabulating nearly half-a-million special ballots – most of them from overseas. However, the current margin of support for the referendum means that the remaining uncounted ballots will not change the outcome.
The referendum’s success makes New Zealand the seventh country to allow euthanasia, according to reports, joining nations such as Canada and Belgium. Several other countries and US states have legalized varying forms of physician-assisted suicide.
One prominent campaigner for the referendum described the result as a “victory for compassion and kindness.”
Opponents expressed concern that legalizing euthanasia would contradict suicide prevention campaigns and would pressure terminally ill people to choose assisted dying in order to be less of a burden to family.
Although considered taboo in most parts of the world, campaigners to legalize euthanasia have scored a number of victories in recent years. Earlier this month, the Dutch government said it would allow doctors to euthanize terminally ill children as young as one year old, making the Netherlands only the second country in the world to permit the practice.
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