At the 2020 General Election, you will be asked to make a choice on whether the End of Life Choice Act 2019 should come into force, giving people with a terminal illness the option of requesting assisted dying.
If more than 50 percent of people vote yes, the Act will become law 12 months after the votes are counted. The Act will only come into force if more than 50 percent of voters in the referendum vote 'Yes'. Read the submission the College made in 2018.
The referendum results will be known about two weeks after the election.
The College is taking a neutral stance, not making comment one way or the other. GPs are free to vote along their own conscience lines.
The referendum question is: Do you support the End of Life Choice Act 2019 coming into force?
Terms used in the Act
Read the End of life Choice Act 2019
In the Act, 'assisted dying' means:
- a person's doctor or nurse practitioner giving them medication to relieve their suffering by bringing on death; or
- the taking of medication by the person to relieve their suffering by bringing on death.
In the Act, 'medication' means a lethal dose of the medication used for assisted dying.
Who would be eligible for assisted dying?
To be able to ask for assisted dying, a person must meet ALL the following criteria. They must:
- be aged 18 years or over
- be 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
- experiences unbearable suffering that cannot be relieved in a manner that the person considers tolerable
- be able to make an informed decision about assisted dying.
A person would not be eligible to ask for assisted dying if the only reason they give is that they are suffering from a mental disorder or mental illness, or have a disability of any kind, or are of advanced age.
Making sure the choice is freely made
The doctor must do their best to make sure that a person's choice to ask for assisted dying is their own.
If, at any time, the doctor or nurse practitioner thinks a person is being pressured about their decision, they must stop the process.
A health practitioner is not allowed to suggest that a person consider assisted dying when providing a health service to them.
The assisted dying process - requesting assisted dying
The process of assisted dying begins with the person asking their doctor.
Determining who is eligible
The person's doctor and an independent doctor must agree that the person meets all the criteria, which includes being able to make an informed decision about assisted dying.
If either doctor is unsure of the person's ability to make that decision, a psychiatrist needs to assess the person. If a person is not eligible, they cannot receive assisted dying.
Selecting the method and timing
If the person is eligible, they choose a method, date, and time for taking the medication.
Administering the lethal dose of medication
At the time the person has chosen to take the medication, the doctor or nurse practitioner must ask the person if they still choose to take the medication.
If the person chooses to take it, the doctor or nurse practitioner gives it. The doctor or nurse practitioner must be available to the person until they die.
If the person changes their mind, the medication must be taken away.
What happens after the votes are counted?
If more than 50 percent of people vote 'Yes' in the referendum, the End of Life Choice Act will come into force 12 months after the date the final votes are announced.
If more than 50 percent of people vote 'No' in the referendum, the End of Life Choice Act will not come into force.
This information came from the referendum’s website where there is also more information about the End of Life Choice Bill.
Further research and resources
The College is taking a neutral stance, not making comment one way or the other about euthanasia. However, to help members make their own personal decision ahead of the referendum we have collated a range of views and research for your consideration. The sharing of these resources is not intended to influence; simply to inform.
Disclaimer: the below summaries are not conclusive. Please read the resource links for the full discussion.
- The mechanics of the End of Life Bill (opens to PDF) by Jo Scott Jones and Mike Tombleson runs through the procedure that would happen if the End of Life Bill becomes law including the criteria that needs to be met and exclusions that apply. This is a balanced overview of the practical implications of the bill.
- Unpacking the End of Life Choice Act 2019 is a one-pager by Alliance Care who oppose the bill but have outlined details within the law that doctors should be aware of. It primarily compares the New Zealand law on End of Life with that of other countries.