FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
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What is meant by “end-of-life choice”, “assisted dying” and “voluntary euthanasia”?
These terms all refer to the same thing: the legal option for people to request a doctor to hasten their own death, should they find themselves with a terminal disease that causes them unbearable suffering that cannot be relieved.
Have people in NZ obtained an assisted death?
Yes, they have. The End of Life Choice Act came into force on 7 November 2021 and since then small numbers of people have requested and obtained an assisted death. Exact numbers will be made known to the public on 30 June each year when the Registrar for assisted dying reports to the Minister for Health who then tables the report in parliament. The End-of-Life Choice Society receives more frequent briefings from the Ministry of Health which is charged with the implementation and overview of the assisted dying service.
How long does it take from enquiry to acceptance?
The process takes from 4 – 6 weeks. It can be done more speedily for a person who applies when already very close to death.
Will my doctor let me know when I should consider assisted dying?
No. The law does not allow doctors to suggest or recommend assisted dying to their patients. Instead, the patient must initiate the conversation by asking their doctor to help them with an assisted death. The request must be explicit. See our video here »
If I think/know my doctor is a conscientious objector, what should I do?
Depending on your situation, you could initially try to be transferred to another doctor in your practice or area who is open-minded about assisted dying. This may save time. However, if time is against you, you should go directly to the Ministry of Health’s Assisted Dying Service for help. Call the Assisted Dying Service on 0800 223 852 or email AssistedDying@health.govt.nz The Assisted Dying Service holds a list of doctors willing to assess people for eligibility.
What are the eligibility criteria?
You can read the criteria here » You will need to meet all of the eligibility criteria, as assessed and agreed by two unrelated doctors.
Assisted dying is not available to those applying solely on grounds of disability or of mental illness. It is not available via Advance Directive or once mental competency has been lost, e.g due to advancing dementia.
Do I personally have to contact one of the Ministry’s doctors?
No, this will be done for you. Your enquiry will be allocated to a clinical advisor who will talk with you initially about your circumstances, location etc. If you are likely to be eligible, the clinical advisor will put you in direct contact with a trained and registered doctor willing to make a definitive assessment. This doctor may request your own GP to release your files; it is in your interests to give permission. If the first doctor finds you eligible, every subsequent step in the process will be explained by your clinical advisor who will manage your case to the end.
What if I change my mind?
You can opt out at any time, including right up to the last minute.
Can my family legally overrule my in-person request for an assisted death?
What will it cost me to obtain an assisted death?
Assisted dying is a free service. Any other medical expenses will be payable by you in the normal way.
Does anyone ever get turned down? What then?
Yes, people do get turned down sometimes. If you are ineligible, the assessing doctor will tell you so and explain why. You may become eligible later as your disease progresses, in which case you can re-apply.
How will the Act impact disabled people?
Disabled people have the same rights as all other New Zealanders regarding assisted dying. There are two primary but opposing issues of concern for the disability community.
1. That disabled people may be at risk by the legislation because of potential coercion by family and other influencers who may wish to use the Act to hasten their death.
2. That disabled people may be denied access to the legislation because they may be wrongly assessed as not competent to make an informed decision to end their life.
We will ensure that these issues are well understood and that appropriate mitigation against these scenarios is included in the Act’s policies and procedures.
Can providers of assisted dying be prosecuted?
Assisted dying is legal in New Zealand with very strict guidelines to prevent abuse. Trained health practitioners are not liable for prosecution provided they adhere strictly to the eligibility criteria and process.
Is assisted dying the same as suicide?
No, it is not. Several academic papers attest to this. In 2021, Dr Roger Hunt, Australian palliative care physician described the many differences between assisted dying and suicide in his article published in the Australian Medical Journal. In 2015, Dr Frank Spring clinical psychologist of New Mexico described the many differences between the two as laid out in the Amicus Brief of the New Mexico Psychological Association when he testified at the NZ High Court case brought forward by Lecretia Seales. The difference between assisted dying and suicide is also recognised in law: hence assisted dying does not invalidate a life insurance policy whereas suicide does.
What’s happening overseas regarding assisted dying?
As of January 2021, assisted dying legislation covered some 250 – 300 million people worldwide. These include entire countries such as Canada, Switzerland, Holland, Belgium, Spain, but also states such as California US and all of the Australian states. We believe there is no turning back the tide of right-to-die movements around the globe, as practical experience explodes the fearful myths and dire predictions, giving way to the reality of a peaceful, lawful death. Our own End of Life Choice Act came into force on 7 November 2021.
Do you promote Advance Directives?
The Society has promoted Advance Directives for many years. Although our current legislation does not allow assisted dying by means of an Advance Directive, we still believe it to be an excellent document for all people to have all through their adult life. It is an alternative for those who do not meet the eligibility criteria for assisted dying but who do not wish to prolong their life under certain circumstances. An Advance Directive makes use of people’s legal rights to refuse or reject unwanted treatment or medication. Please download our free-of-charge Advance Directive booklet and form here »
Can my family legally overrule my Advance Directive?
In theory no. In practice, family can influence how your advance directive is applied especially where there is disagreement. Right now, you cannot request assisted dying via advance directive.
Do you support palliative care?
The Society strongly supports palliative care and believes that most people and their families find it very helpful at the end of life. We also support increased government funding for palliative care and an expansion of its services. However, we know from personal experience as well as from international research that some diseases and conditions do not respond to even the best of palliative care. Under those circumstances, we believe assisted dying is a compassionate alternative. Ministry of Health data show that 80% of people applying for assisted dying are already receiving palliative care at the time of applying.
How can I support the End-of-Life Choice Society?
Who is behind the End-of-Life Choice Society?
We are an incorporated society of ordinary citizens from all walks of life. We share a common belief that it is cruel and inhumane to force someone to die in unbearable suffering against that person’s will. We operate by means of annual membership fees and donations. We have been active in New Zealand for 44 years and used to be known as the Voluntary Euthanasia Society of New Zealand.
Why do you support assisted dying?
Many people would prefer an earlier death to a longer life of extreme suffering. Most of the Society’s members have witnessed the agonising deaths of one or more people they have loved and do not want their own death to be similar, nor do they wish to see others forced to endure the same.
What specific actions do you take to support legalising assisted dying in New Zealand?
Who was involved in the End-of-Life Choice campaign? Which organisations played part in this?
The Society was very active in this campaign through articles published in the media, through its online presence and media appearances (TV/radio) and through local events providing face-to-face information.
We were supported by Doctors for End-of-Life Choice New Zealand, a group of retired and working medical professionals. This group presented arguments for and evidence of the need for assisted dying legalisation via medical journals, opinion pieces and media appearances.
Finally, we are grateful to the “Yes for Compassion” organisation which undertook a large-scale, professional media campaign designed to counter the misinformation put about during the passage of the Act through parliament and during the referendum period.