Assisted dying will be legal in New Zealand from 7 November 2021, which is a year after the 2020 referendum on the End of Life Choice Act 2019 (the Act).
The introduction of assisted dying means that a person with a terminal illness who meets the eligibility criteria can request medication to relieve their suffering and end their life.
The Act sets out the legal framework and a high-level process for accessing assisted dying, including strict eligibility criteria and safeguards.
Assisted dying is not a replacement for palliative care or health care services more generally. It provides another option for people with a terminal illness in certain circumstances.
The Process for Choosing Assisted Dying
The Act outlines that certain steps must take place as part of the assisted dying process. The high-level process is outlined below for a situation where a person is eligible and chooses an assisted death. You can read about this process in more depth in the Act.
- The person asks to start the process for assisted dying.
- The attending medical practitioner assesses if they are eligible.
- An independent medical practitioner assesses if they are eligible.
- If required, a psychiatrist is asked to provide a competency assessment.
The person is confirmed as eligible and chooses when the medication will be administered.
- The attending medical practitioner, or an attending nurse practitioner, writes the appropriate prescription and informs the Registrar.
- The Registrar confirms the correct process has been followed.
- A pharmacist dispenses the medication.
- The medication is administered by the attending medical or nurse practitioner, or self-administered by the person.
- The assisted death is confirmed and reported to the Registrar.
*Under the Act, a health practitioner (including Aged Care Staff) cannot raise assisted dying with a person.*
Regardless of personal beliefs about assisted dying, you should:
- meet professional standards by not inhibiting a person’s access to lawful medical treatment
- ensure continuity of care is maintained for a person requesting assisted dying.
If a medical practitioner with a conscientious objection is asked by a person about assisted dying, they have certain responsibilities under the Act.
- inform the person of their objection
- tell the person that they have the right to ask the SCENZ Group for the name and contact details of a medical practitioner who is willing to participate in assisted dying.
- Health practitioners with a conscientious objection can also follow these steps. They could also suggest that a person talks to their medical practitioner about assisted dying and/or direct a person to where they can find information about assisted dying.
Unlike when receiving other health services, a person is not presumed to be competent under the Act. The person requesting assisted dying must be assessed and found competent to make an informed choice about assisted dying. This includes being competent at the time the medication is administered. Advanced directives cannot be used to request assisted dying.
The medical and/or nurse practitioner must do their best to ensure that the person expresses their wish free from pressure from any other person.
The attending medical practitioner should:
- speak to other health practitioners who are in regular contact with the person
- speak with the person’s whānau (if approved by the person).
A person can change their mind at any time
The attending medical practitioner should periodically discuss the choice with the person and make sure the person knows that they can withdraw their request at any time before the administration of the medication.
Before the attending medical practitioner or nurse practitioner gives the person the medication, they must ask them again what they choose.
The person can choose to:
- receive the medication at that time
- not receive the medication at that time, but to receive the medication at a time on a later date (that is not more than 6 months after the date initially chosen for administering the medication)
- not receive the medication at that time and to rescind their request to access the option of assisted dying.
Fraser Manor’s Position:
From our intake agreement:
Fraser Manor is a conscientious objector to the End of Life Choice Act and does not provide assisted death services. If you would like more information on this law or services please contact the End of Life Choice Society at 0800 223 852 or speak to our house physician who will refer you to SCENZ (Support and Consultation on End-of-Life in NZ), a group set up within the Ministry of Health.
For further information and study see:
End of Life Choice Act implementation | Ministry of Health NZ