New Zealand doctors prepare for End of Life Choice

New Zealand doctors are getting ready to implement the End of Life Choice Act when it comes into force next year.

Assisted dying will become legal from 6 November 2021.

The preliminary referendum result at last month’s election shows 65.1 percent of voters supported the act and 33.8 percent opposed it.

The New Zealand Medical Association (NZMA) opposed the changed law. However, its chair Dr Kate Baddock says now the results were out, the NZMA says it will work with its doctors and with the public to improve understanding of the act and its implications.

Braddock says the NZMA aims to “ensure everybody understands what the act will entail and what people’s obligations, responsibilities and options will be.”

New Zealand doctors will be allowed to be conscientious objectors of euthanasia.

Braddock says one of the first steps will be to create a list showing which doctors want to be part of the process.

“Doctors will be making their choices well before the 12 months are up as to how they feel about being engaged – first of all in the process of decision-making and then the execution of the medication itself.”

No-one knows what the next year will entail, she says.

“It’s going to be really important as an organisation that we engage with our membership over what the provisions of the law mean. So as a doctor, what does it mean precisely in terms of your responsibilities and your options.”

The Royal College of General Practitioners is neutral about the new End of Life Choice Act. Its president Dr Samantha Murton says the College will advise and support its members through the transition.

“There’ll have to be training and learning about the legislation, how it works, what your requirements are, what you do if you think someone is under coercion, how do you access the services if you don’t want to do it yourself.”

A lot of planning around logistics will be needed, Murton says.

“There might be places where you don’t have two doctors to be able to provide the services in a particular centre, there may be logistics around that.”

“It’s just making sure all the checks and balances are in place and that the system’s very robust and people know how to access the services if they want it.”

Given the work to do and the timeframe, implementing the law will need “extremely good management,” Murton says.

It is anticipated many of those who choose to access euthanasia will be terminal cancer patients.

The Cancer Society is neutral on the issue.

“I would never want to see anyone presented with the false choice of either suffering or assisted dying, because that is not the choice that should be available to people. It should be excellent supportive care with all possible efforts to relieve suffering made in all cases, at all times,” its medical director Chris Jackson says.


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