Assisted dying health service established

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People experiencing unbearable suffering from a terminal illness will now be able to ask for medical help to end their lives.

The assisted dying service has been formed as part of the implementation of the End of Life Choice Act 2019, it came into effect yesterday.

It is a new health service in New Zealand, available to some people with a terminal illness that is likely to end their life within six months

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 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.

“The health sector has been thoughtful and engaged as we worked together over the past 12 months to form an assisted dying service,” says Dr Good.

“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.”

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 per cent of all deaths in other jurisdictions,” says Dr Good.

“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,” she says.

There is information about the service, including public resources, and contact details, on the Ministry’s website.

Assisted dying is a sensitive topic and may be difficult for some people.

If reading this information has raised distressing feelings there is support available. You can call or text 1737 for free to speak to a trained counsellor at any time.

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