In 2018 the Catholic bishops of New Zealand published resources against assisted suicide legislation and encouraged Catholics to oppose legalization. The Nathaniel Centre, the New Zealand bishops-founded Catholic bioethics center, posted resources on Church teaching on euthanasia and assisted suicide to their website and social media pages ahead of the referendum.
Ahead of the election, the Nathaniel Centre said the act is "badly drafted and seriously flawed."
"It will expose many New Zealanders to the risk of a premature death at a time when they are most vulnerable. Whatever one's views about the idea of euthanasia, it is not compassion to vote for a dangerous law," the center said. "The group most at risk if we legalize euthanasia and assisted suicide are those vulnerable to the suggestion they would be 'better off dead' – our elders, disabled people, and people with depression and mental illness who find themselves fitting the eligibility criteria."
The center cited the Lawyers for Vulnerable New Zealanders, a group of over 200 lawyers, including some supporters of euthanasia, opposed the act on the grounds it is too broadly drafted, "dangerous," and "broader in its scope and riskier than comparable laws overseas."
Other opponents of the act included the New Zealand Medical Association, Hospice New Zealand, Palliative Care Nurses and Palliative Medicine Doctors.
David Seymour, the lawmaker who sponsored the act, praised its passage as "a great day," the New York Times reports. In his view, the vote made New Zealand "a kinder, more compassionate, more humane society."
Pope Francis has on multiple occasions spoken out against assisted suicide and euthanasia, both of which are "morally unacceptable" according to Church teaching. In 2016, Pope Francis told medical professionals that assisted suicide and euthanasia are part of the "throwaway culture" that offers people "false compassion" and treats human persons like a problem.
Euthanasia is legal in the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Canada and Colombia. Doctor-assisted suicide is legal in Switzerland. Some U.S. states have legalized assisted suicide.
Also on New Zealand's ballot was a proposal to legalize recreational marijuana use, allow adults age 20 and over to buy cannabis from licensed outlets, and allow adults to grow the plant at home. Advertising and smoking the drug in public would be banned. That proposal failed by a vote of 53% to 46%, according to preliminary results.
The country already has legalized medical marijuana.
Critics of the recreational use legalization warned that it would make the drug more accessible to children, Bloomberg News reports. They said cannabis is a serious drug harmful to mental health, especially among adolescents.
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For their part, advocates said legalization would weaken the power of drug trafficking gangs, regulate quality and raise awareness of health risk through the use of warning labels. They said indigenous Maori people are disproportionately arrested and convicted for the drug.
Some figures suggest that New Zealanders are among the biggest users of marijuana in the world, with 80% having tried the drug by age 20 and 12% reporting use of the drug in the past year.
Pope Francis criticized drug use and legalization in a 2014 address to the International Drug Enforcement Conference in Rome.
"Let me state this in the clearest terms possible: the problem of drug use is not solved with drugs! Drug addiction is an evil, and with evil there can be no yielding or compromise," the pope said. "To think that harm can be reduced by permitting drug addicts to use narcotics in no way resolves the problem. Attempts, however limited, to legalize so-called 'recreational drugs', are not only highly questionable from a legislative standpoint, but they fail to produce the desired effects."