Questions over Catholic MP chairing end of life inquiry

The suitability of a Catholic MP to chair a parliamentary select committee’s inquiry into ending one’s life in New Zealand has been questioned.

National MP Simon O’Connor is chair of the Health Select Committee, which is considering the issue in response to a petition by former MP Maryan Street and others.

Mr O’Connor once studied for the priesthood with the Society of Mary.

He has made his opposition to legalisation of assisted suicide known.

The New Zealand Herald reported that ACT MP David Seymour is calling for Mr O’Connor to step down as inquiry chairman, because he believes the Tamaki MP is too partisan on the issue.

Last year, Mr Seymour launched a private members bill that would legalise voluntary euthanasia.

Labour and Green MPs backed Mr O’Connor’s fairness and impartiality as chair.

Mr O’Connor rejected calls to step aside and said the outcome of the inquiry was not a foregone conclusion.

“I can hold a personal view but also run a committee in a way that is . . . professional,” he said.

In an interview last year with NZ Catholic, Mr O’Connor defended his chairing the inquiry.

“As chair of the committee, my role is to ensure that a fair and open process is followed. This is something I can and am rightly doing.

“In fact, I think it is very clear from the way the investigation has been structured, the time given to make submissions, the courtesy extended to the petitioners and others, are all indications that the committee is being chaired in a fair and appropriate way.

“Having said that, I would like to stress that being an impartial chair does not necessitate putting aside one’s own views.

“I think any inquiry is bound to be of a better standard when its members have a keen interest in the subject.

“Everyone is going to get a chance to be heard through this inquiry.

“I will agree with some people and disagree with others, but that’s the nature of democracy. There will be a big conversation and we will try to understand the issue better.”

There has also been criticism of the terms of reference of the inquiry, in that the topic under consideration is too broad, rather than the focus being on assisted dying alone.

Mr O’Connor said the committee members unanimously agreed on the terms of reference, after a robust debate.


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