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Euthanasia referendum explained: What happens now NZ has voted in favour of End of Life Choice

30 Oct 2020 2:12 PM | Philip Patston (Administrator)

Source: Newshub

While we're still waiting on special votes to be counted, preliminary results from the euthanasia referendum make it clear assisted dying will soon be legal in New Zealand.

The referendum on the End of Life Choice Bill - which gives people with a terminal illness the option of requesting assisted dying - was held alongside the general election and cannabis legalisation and control referendum earlier this month.

Preliminary results released by the Electoral Commission on Friday afternoon show 65.2 percent of Kiwis are in support of bringing the End of Life Choice Act 2019 into force, with 33.8 percent against.

Here's what that means for New Zealand.

Why the euthanasia referendum passed

The referendum, held between October 3-17, was a vote on whether the End of Life Choice Act 2019 should become part of New Zealand's legislation.

Parliament had already passed the End of Life Choice Act, but it wouldn't come into force unless the majority of Kiwis were in favour of it.

New Zealanders were asked "Do you support the End of Life Choice Act 2019 coming into force?" and were given the option of answering 'yes' or 'no' to the question.

As the referendum is binding, the Act is guaranteed to come into effect if more than 50 percent of Kiwis voted in favour.

The positive result announced on Friday afternoon means people with a terminal illness will soon have the option of requesting assisted dying.

When euthanasia will be legalised

The End of Life Choice Act will become enshrined in law a year to the day from when the final referendum results are announced.

Final results will be revealed by the Electoral Commission next Friday, November 6, when special votes have been counted. Special votes are those from people who enrolled on election day or cast their ballots from overseas.

That means Kiwis could only begin the process of applying for assisted dying from November 6, 2021.

Until then, euthanasia will still be considered "aiding and abetting suicide" under Section 179 of the New Zealand Crimes Act 1961.

Who will be eligible for assisted dying

Once the End of Life Choice Act becomes law, Kiwis will be eligible for assisted dying so long as they:

  • Are aged 18 years or over

  • Are a citizen or permanent resident of New Zealand

  • Suffer from a terminal illness that's likely to end their life within six months

  • Have significant and ongoing decline in physical capability

  • Experience unbearable suffering that cannot be eased

  • Are able to make an informed decision about assisted dying

Those considered able to make an informed decision about assisted dying are those who can understand the information, remember it, weigh it up and communicate their decision in some way.

The Government says people will not be eligible for assisted dying if the only reason they give is that they are suffering from a mental disorder or mental illness, have a disability of any kind, or are of advanced age.

In the case of a request for assisted dying, the physician in charge must do their best to ensure it's the person's own choice.

"If, at any time, the doctor or nurse practitioner thinks a person is being pressured about their decision, they must stop the process," Government information reads.

"A health practitioner is not allowed to suggest that a person consider assisted dying when providing a health service to them."

The process for someone requesting euthanasia

The process for assisted dying begins with a person asking their doctor for it.

The doctor - alongside another, independent physician - must then agree that the person meets the criteria stated above. If either doctor is unsure, a psychiatrist must assess the person.

If the person is eligible, they are able to choose a method, date and time for their death.

At the time the person has chosen, the doctor or nurse practitioner gives a lethal dose of medication, and remains available to the person until they die.

What is the method of death, and can you change your mind?

A person who's requested assisted dying can change their mind at any time.

The doctor or nurse practitioner at hand must ask the person if they still want to go ahead just before the medication is administered.

If they do, they can choose one of four options for how they wish to receive assisted dying medication.

  1. Ingestion, triggered by the person.

  2. Intravenous delivery, triggered by the person.

  3. Ingestion through a tube, triggered by the attending doctor or nurse practitioner.

  4. Injection, administered by the attending doctor or nurse practitioner.

If they don't, the medication must be taken away.

"No particular form of words is required to be written or said by the person to show they have changed their mind," the Electoral Commission says.

"The person can use gestures to communicate to the attending doctor or nurse practitione. The person can also choose to delay the date to receive assisted dying by up to six months."

Other things to note

  • Opting for euthanasia will not affect a person's life insurance. A person who dies as a result of assisted dying is taken to have died from the terminal illness from which they suffered, as if assisted dying had not been provided.

  • A doctor can object to providing assisted dying if they have a conscientious objection to the procedure. However they must tell the person they have a right to ask for the name and contact details of a replacement doctor.

  • A person does not need to discuss their decision to opt for assisted dying with their family. However, their doctor must encourage the person to discuss their wish with family, friends and counsellors, and must ensure the person has the opportunity to do so.

  • A welfare guardian cannot make decisions about assisted dying on behalf of a protected person.

  • Advance directives - a statement signed by a person setting out ahead of time a treatment wanted, or not wanted, in the future - are not permitted when it comes to assisted dying.

© End-Of-Life Choice • PO Box 321, Gisborne 4040 • Email: office@eolc.org.nz




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