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Insights into our Assisted Dying Service

02 Jul 2022 1:02 PM | EOLC Admin (Administrator)

Opinion by Ann DavidEnd-of-Life Choice Society president

Source: Gisborne Herald

Ahead of the release today of the Assisted Dying Registrar’s first report to Parliament, the End-of-Life Choice Society highlights information that has come to it from members of the public using the service.

Praise flows for the clinical advisers at the coalface of the Assisted Dying Service, for their efficiency and sensitivity. They handle all the necessary communications with and between doctors, specialists, psychiatrists and patients. In two instances known to us, applicants who were bitterly disappointed to be found ineligible say they were nevertheless counselled with warmth and compassion by their clinical advisers.

As expected, even more generous praise flows for the assisted dying doctors. The parent of an assisted dying patient described the death as “surreal and sort of beautiful”. She was living in an urban rest home but “didn’t want to die in a room”. Family and friends arranged to transport her to a chosen outdoor setting. Facing a beautiful bush view, she embraced loved ones for the last time. When she signalled readiness, the assisted dying doctor stepped forward. The patient had chosen to take the medication orally. Within minutes she fell into a sleep from which she never awoke. She had avoided a prolonged and gruelling death, remaining instead in personal control to the end.

While most assisted dying patients choose to die in their own bed at home, a North Island patient wanted to farewell the animals on his land one last time. Then when he was ready, he took the life-ending medication from his doctor waiting close by. His hospital death would have been harrowing for him and his family; his suffering unable to be relieved in spite of excellent care. Instead, his assisted dying doctor went above and beyond to make death peaceful and personally meaningful for him.

An End-of-Life Choice Society member shared with us a comprehensive, user-friendly booklet given to assisted dying applicants like herself outlining next steps and recommending actions for finishing unfinished business. “My assisted dying doctor couldn’t be nicer,” she said.

But it’s not all roses. There are obstructions, whether deliberate or unintentional. When a patient’s own doctor declines to help, the law requires that doctor to tell the patient they can seek assistance from “SCENZ”, the newly-created statutory body within which the Assisted Dying Service operates. But the law does not actively require declining doctors to provide the relevant contact details of SCENZ, so some choose not to.

Their frantic patients may or may not find their way to the End-of-Life Choice Society’s “Contact Us” page. To those who have, the society provides the 0800 Assisted Dying number that features on our website and then follows up a few days later to make sure the patient has been attended to. They always have been and they are always enormously relieved. Clearly, just knowing help is at hand is palliative to a dying sufferer.

Of the 33 hospices that fall under the Hospice NZ umbrella, only two allow assisted dying onsite. The End-of-Life Choice Society thanks Totara Hospice in Auckland and Cranford Hospice in the Hawke’s Bay for their enlightened leadership and for upholding the hospice philosophy of respecting patient autonomy and of caring for patients non-judgmentally. We are gratified to know that 80 percent of assisted dying patients are in palliative care at the time of requesting assisted dying.

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