The Ministry of Health says ensuring a robust process for those seeking assisted dying is an essential safeguard as part of the new service.
The assisted dying service has been formed as part of the implementation of the End of Life Choice Act 2019. It is a new health service in New Zealand, available to some people with a terminal illness who are nearing the end of their lives.
The Ministry has worked closely with a wide range of health and disability sector representatives to ensure the service is safe and accessible to those who request this option.
The Ministry will have oversight of the service. Clinical advisors are part of the secretariat to ensure appropriate information and support is on offer to help the person and their whānau navigate the steps in the assisted dying services, and provide follow up pastoral support following an assisted death.
Dr Kristin Good has been appointed the Registrar (assisted dying).
“The health sector has been thoughtful and engaged as we worked together over the past 12 months to form an assisted dying service. As well as meeting the legislative requirements, the implementation has focused on ensuring there is a workforce trained and ready to care for people with a terminal illness who may seek this service, and there are important safeguards in place,” says Dr Good.
“We want to thank the health sector for their support and consultation over the past 12 months and we also want to thank health practitioners for continuing to support the new service.”
Dr Good says as part of the initial establishment she will be making herself available to medical and nurse practitioners and psychiatrists to support navigating the new service.
“Assisted dying will now be available as an option for people experiencing unbearable suffering from a terminal illness that is likely to end their life within six months. It’s important to reiterate that assisted dying is not a replacement for palliative care or health care services. It provides another option for people with a terminal illness in certain circumstances.
“There are strict eligibility criteria. Not everyone with a terminal illness will be eligible.”
A person seeking assisted dying needs to raise it with their doctor or health care team. A health professional cannot raise assisted dying with a person.
“We’re uncertain what demand for the new service will be like in New Zealand but we’re aware assisted dying typically accounts for between 0.3 and 2% of all deaths in other jurisdictions.
“Not all doctors will provide assisted dying services, but they will be able to tell a person who raises it where to find the information they need. There is information about the service, including public resources, and contact details, on the Ministry’s website,” Dr Good said.
Assisted dying is a sensitive topic and may be difficult for some people. If reading this information has raised some distressing feelings for you, please know there is support available. You can call or text 1737 for free to speak to a trained counsellor at any time.
Assisted dying services will be delivered by medical and nurse practitioners, working with a dedicated secretariat at the Ministry of Health, along with advice and support from the Support and Consultation for End of Life in New Zealand (SCENZ) Group. The SCENZ Group maintains the lists or practitioners who will provide parts of the service, such as assessments.
Assisted dying services are most likely to be provided in a person’s home or other community settings, rather than in hospital settings. The Assisted Dying Service secretariat provides a consistent point of contact and oversight of the service. This includes a consistent point of contact for the person, their whānau, and involved health practitioners.
The Registrar (assisted dying) is part of the secretariat. Their role checks that the processes required by the Act have been complied with to ensure people who wish to receive assisted dying are eligible and notifying the person’s doctor, known as the attending medical practitioner, if they are satisfied that the processes have been complied with before the administration of assisted dying medication.
The secretariat also includes clinical advisors who provide information and support to help the person and their whânau navigate the steps in the assisted dying services, and provide follow up pastoral support following an assisted death.
The secretariat will work with the Support and Consultation for End of Life in New Zealand (SCENZ) Group to identify practitioners from the SCENZ lists to undertake the assessment processes.
Assisted dying will become part of the existing health and disability system and there will be continuous improvement activities over time, and ongoing engagement with the health sector as this new health service establishes.