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New euthanasia law comes into force

Team pro-euthanasia: Esther Richards and Freddy.

A dedicated number is being set up to assist euthanasia patients ahead of the implementation of new laws that come into force this weekend.

The End of Life Choice Act received 65.1 per cent support in a public referendum held alongside last year’s general election, and becomes a reality on Sunday, November 7.

From that date, doctors and patients can use the new law that allows assisted dying under strict conditions.

To be eligible, you must be: a New Zealand citizen or permanent resident; at least 18 years of age; have a terminal illness that is likely to end your life in six months or less; be experiencing suffering that cannot be relieved in a way that you find bearable; be in an advanced state of irreversible decline in physical capability; be of sound mind and able to clearly articulate that you fully understand what you are asking for.

You are not eligible solely on the grounds of disability, age or mental illness, says End of Life Choice Society Tauranga representative Esther Richards.

“We now have a dedicated number where patients can access help if they are eligible, or if their own doctor is a conscientious objector,” says Esther.

“These contacts will take you to SCENZ (Support and Consultation on End-of-Life in NZ) - a group set up within the Ministry of Health as required by the parliamentary act.”

The number to call is: 0800 223 852.

Esther was given around five months to live back in 2012 after being diagnosed with terminal brain cancer.

“I always said I would scare the cancer off with laughter,” she says. The positive survivor has a good belly laugh, and it is well exercised. In 2015 a specialist looked closely at her MRI scan. “There was no big blob, just a tiny mark and scar tissue,” she says. “The tumour had disappeared.”

She didn’t have a special diet or an explanation. “But I did have faith. And they said ‘well, He has delivered for you’.”

After her experience over the last decade, why is she advocating the right to die?

“Even though my cancer has gone, I still have a responsibility to find an end-of-life option for other people. I have been given another chance, but not everyone will be blessed the way I was.”

With the End of Life Choice Act coming into force next month, Esther wants to make it clear what people are and aren’t able to do.

“No-one from the medical profession is allowed to recommend or suggest assisted dying to you. Instead, patients must open the conversation with them.

“Your request must be explicit, indicating that you understand you are requesting a deliberate shortening of your life in order to avoid prolonged, inevitable suffering.

“No-one can request assisted dying on your behalf. The request must come from you in person, and you must convince two separate doctors that you are acting independently, free of coercion.  

“You cannot request the assisted death of another person.”

Esther says most hospices (but not all) have declared their objection to assisted dying to preserve their ethos of neither prolonging nor hastening death. 

“Even so, under the law, hospices, rest homes, nursing homes and medical practices are required to establish a protocol that will deal with requests for assisted dying without frustrating patients’ access to it, by providing alternative options.

“Patients must be made aware of the ‘in principle’ objection of a facility (if any) when registering for entry.”

For further and ongoing information from the End-of-Life Choice Society, visit: www.eolc.org.nz

The site will be updated with patient-friendly information as events unfold and new information comes to hand. 

Questions? Visit: www.eolc.org.nz or call 021 123 3263 during business hours.

 

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