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New Zealanders Say 'Yes' to Assisted Suicide, 'No' to Marijuana Use

10-30-2020
NewZealand2
In this Oct. 16, 2020, file photo, cars are driven past a billboard urging voters to vote "No" against euthanasia in Christchurch, New Zealand. (AP Photo/Mark Baker, File)

New Zealand has overwhelmingly voted to legalize euthanasia and allow assisted suicide. 

But preliminary results of the second referendum released Friday show voters do not want to legalize recreational marijuana use.

With about 83 percent of votes counted, New Zealanders emphatically endorsed the euthanasia measure with 65 percent voting in favor and 34 percent voting against.

The "No" vote on marijuana was much closer, with 53 percent voting against legalizing the drug for recreational use and 46 percent voting in favor. That left open a slight chance the measure could still pass once all special votes were counted next week, although it would require a huge swing.

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Conservative lawmaker Nick Smith, from the opposition National Party, welcomed the preliminary marijuana result.

"This is a victory for common sense. Research shows cannabis causes mental health problems, reduced motivation and educational achievement, and increased road and workplace deaths," he said. "New Zealanders have rightly concluded that legalizing recreational cannabis would normalize it, make it more available, increase its use, and cause more harm."

But liberal lawmaker Chlöe Swarbrick, from the Green Party, said they had long assumed the vote would be close and they needed to wait until the special votes were counted.

"We have said from the outset that this would always come down to voter turnout. We've had record numbers of special votes, so I remain optimistic," she said. "New Zealand has had a really mature and ever-evolving conversation about drug laws in this country and we've come really far in the last three years."

The referendum on euthanasia applies to adults who have terminal illnesses and are likely to die within six months.

Supporters say it makes the country more compassionate and humane, but opponents say the vote puts vulnerable people on a dangerous path.

The vote makes New Zealand the seventh country in the world to legalize assisted dying. Other countries that allow some form of euthanasia include The Netherlands, Luxembourg, Canada, Belgium, and Colombia.

The government's ministry of health will be tasked with assisting those who want to end their lives.

People who suffer from mental illness or decline due to aging would not be eligible. Nor would those applying solely on the basis of "advanced age" or a disability, The Guardian reported. 

Two doctors would have to agree and sign off on the decision.  A psychiatrist would be consulted if either doctor would have any doubts. 

"It is a victory for all New Zealand as we become a more compassionate and humane society," said 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."

But Dr. John Kleinsman, an ethicist for the New Zealand Catholic Bishops, said the vote put vulnerable people on a dangerous path. He said the mere option of euthanasia would be a burden and pressure for many ailing people and their families, as well as for health care and religious workers.

The referendum is scheduled to go into effect on Nov. 6, 2021. 

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