Expect legal action when assisted dying act comes into force

assisted dying

New Zealand health officials are expecting legal action when the new End of Life Choice Act comes into force on 7 November this year.

Ministry of Health officials have highlighted “complex and sensitive elements” to the End of Life Choice Act and incoming assisted dying regime in a briefing paper to Health Minister Andrew Little.

The paper had been given to Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield in January, highlighting numerous unresolved questions and risks surrounding assisted dying services.

Among the “elements” include “uncertainty” over how many people will seek assisted death, terminally ill patients having to travel for services when the law comes into effect, competing pressures in the health system, and a possible need to rewrite parts of the law to resolve “legislative issues”.

A statutory body, Support and Consultation for End of Life in New Zealand (SCENZ), will include up of 11 medical experts who will manage the incoming assisted dying regime.

SCENZ will develop and oversee the standards for terminally ill patients should receive when they seek an assisted death.

Although the ministry says work to implement the new Act is “well underway”, legal action over assisted dying services is considered “almost certain”, due to the “strong views from sections of the public in favour and against assisted dying”.

Dr John Kleinsman, the director of The Nathaniel Centre for Bioethics sees “a tragic irony in the fact that the Ministry of Health is able to put so many resources into enabling assisted death, and fully funding it in our country, when palliative care is not equitably available and also not fully funded.

“Advocates of the law change campaigned for change on the basis of choice, but for too many people they won’t have the choice to access quality end of life care.

“I am not surprised by the prospect of further legal action. On the one hand, the Act is a terribly weak piece of legislation and I and many others, including lawyers and health practitioners, pointed out its many problems when the Bill was being considered.

“Too many MP’s chose not to listen.”

“Many proponents of the new law made it abundantly clear at the time it was passed that they thought it too restrictive! So they will be pushing hard for the law to be expanded. It is what has happened in every other jurisdiction and it will happen here.”

Although Little has been approached by media about the Act in recent weeks. he has not been available.

The three “key risk factors” health officials identified in the briefing paper given to Little and Bloomfield are that: parts of the health sector are refusing to be involved in assisted dying; competing resources and pressures in the health system; and inadequate or insufficient engagement with “stakeholders” within the short timeframe to enact the law.

A “key question” is whether assisted dying should be fully government funded, or a “mixed-model”. How a mixed-model could work was not detailed.

The legislation, which was a members’ bill, may need to be rewritten “to ensure that the Act functions as intended”, the paper said.


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