People have already begun voting in Aotearoa New Zealand. Election day is this Saturday, 17 October. We are voting for our parliament; we are also voting in two referendums: the Cannabis legalisation and control referendum, and the End of Life Choice referendum.

The focus of this post on the referendums is that many, many people think they know what they are voting for – but they actually do not. That is not even entering into: there are ethical theories that can help to make moral decisions, and most people cannot tell their deontological from their utilitarian. This post is not about arguing to vote “Yes” or “No”.

Euthanasia

Even though there has been lengthy public discussion about euthanasia, it seems about three quarters of people in New Zealand are incorrect about what this vote involves. A lot think it is about being able to switch off life-support. Others think we need to pass this bill to permit increasing painkillers to the point where it may hasten death. I’ve read this recently in what appeared to be a carefully presented opinion piece, and I was told this just last weekend by a university-educated voter. Some think it will enable refusing treatment, or that it is needed to allow for a ‘do not resuscitate’ order.

Quite commonly, rather than looking at the details of our NZ bill, people go: I am in favour of euthanasia; this bill is in favour of euthanasia; therefore, I am in favour of this bill. [If your logic is not up to seeing the flaw here, try the parallel: a dog has four legs; this animal has four legs; therefore, this animal is a dog.] People make comparisons with other jurisdictions that allow for euthanasia. But. There is not one single “euthanasia”. There are quite a variety of euthanasia legislations on the planet; we are voting on the NZ particular version – not those overseas ones.

Many people are confused about when, if this vote gets a majority, this bill would come into force (all the way to Sir Michael Cullen). If more than 50% vote in favour, it will come into force 12 months after the date on which the official result of the referendum is declared.

Cannabis

Interestingly, again even though there has been lengthy public discussion about the cannabis referendum, it seems about three quarters of people in New Zealand are incorrect about what this vote involves. It is different to the euthanasia vote in that if passed, it is only the beginning of going through the normal parliamentary process for a bill (including committee stage, etc.), whereas that has all already occurred for the euthanasia referendum vote.

Many think that this is a vote about medicinal cannabis.

Again there is the logic of: I am against treating those who use marijuana as criminals (and maybe: I am for treating this as a health issue); this vote will stop treating those who use marijuana as criminals; therefore, I will vote “yes” to this question.

Regularly, I read or hear comparisons with the Netherlands or Portugal. As above, such people are assuming that there is only a single response to cannabis. There is not. Can you articulate the difference between legalisation and decriminalisation? And do you know which it is in the Netherlands or Portugal (that’s not even going into the cultural differences of those places to here)? Do you even know the current legislation in place in NZ relating to cannabis and the enforcement of this legislation?

To my knowledge, there are only two countries that have passed anything as permissive as what is being voted on in NZ – and they are not the Netherlands or Portugal.

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In summary, I repeat – this post is not an argument to vote “yes” or “no”. There are plenty of others doing that. This is advocating for increased ethics and politics education. And it is urging you, before you vote on these referendums – be sure you understand exactly what you are voting for or against.

Read more on the official government website.

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