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257 terminally ill New Zealanders use assisted dying in first year

147 doctors helped 257 terminally ill New Zealanders to end their suffering under the country’s voluntary assisted dying law, a new report confirms.

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The New Zealand Ministry of Health (Manatu Hauora) has released the Assisted Dying Service yearly report 2021/2022, summarising all interactions with the Assisted Dying Service during its first year of service.

Between 7 November 2021 and 6 November 2022, 661 formal applications were lodged, with 257 people proceeding to an assisted death.

This is slightly lower than previous estimates from the Ministry of Health which predicted that up to 950 people could apply for assisted dying each year, with 350 being assisted to die.

Of the 661 new applications received during the year:

  • 80.8% were NZ European/Pākehā
  • 5.5% were Māori
  • 55.2% were Female/Wāhine
  • 75.8% were 65 years or older
  • 77.0% were receiving palliative care at the time of the application
  • 67.9% had a diagnosis of cancer
  • 82% died at home or another private property.

Like Australia, New Zealand’s system involves strict eligibility criteria and protections to ensure the system operates safely and lawfully.

Of the 661 formal applications, 404 applications didn’t proceed to an assisted death. Some withdrew from the process or died as a result of underlying conditions, while others were found ineligible or not competent to give consent at or after assessment.

The number of applications received throughout the year increased gradually over the first few months before remaining relatively stable from mid-2022 onwards.

As of the date of review, there were 147 practitioners who provide assisted dying services.

New Zealand’s End of Life Choice Act 2019 was passed after heated debate in the New Zealand parliament. It  came into force in late 2021 after 65% of the country voted in favour of assisted dying laws in a 2020 referendum.

The bill followed years of campaigning by people such as Lecretia Seales, a lawyer diagnosed with a terminal brain tumour who sued the New Zealand government for the right to an assisted death.

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