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‘Warm and comforting’

A new voluntary assisted dying report from New Zealand shows encouraging signs of cultural acceptance from the Maori community.

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Manatū Hauora, the NZ Ministry of Health has published the first full year report into assisted dying since the End of Life Choice Act came into force in late 2021. 

The report, of the period 1 April 2022 to 31 March 2023, shows 5% of the 807 people who made applications for assisted dying were Māori. 

The majority of assisted deaths took place in the person’s home or another private property, which aligns with the te reo Māori translation for assisted dying, “mate whakaahuru”, meaning ‘to die in a warm and comforting manner’. 

Dr Kristin Good, Registrar (assisted dying), says as the service continues to mature, there has been a strong focus on providing a safe, quality, and trusted system.

“I continue to see and hear positive stories about how the service has allowed people at the end of their life to have control and dignity over their death.”

Eligibility for assisted dying in New Zealand is strict. To be eligible, the person must meet all of the criteria. The person must be:

  • aged 18 years or over
  • a citizen or permanent resident of New Zealand
  • suffering from a terminal illness that is likely to end their life within six months
  • in an advanced state of irreversible decline in physical capability
  • experiencing unbearable suffering that cannot be relieved in a manner that the person considers tolerable
  • competent to make an informed decision about assisted dying.

The stats

Between 1 April 2022 and 31 March 2023, there were 807 new applications for assisted dying, with 328 people progressing to an assisted death. The number of people accessing assisted dying in New Zealand remains small, with VAD accounting for around 1% of all deaths in the period. 

Of the 807 applications: 

  • 81% were NZ European/Pākehā 
  • 5% were Māori 
  • 52% were female/wāhine 
  • 77% were 65 years or older 
  • 76% were receiving palliative care at the time of the application 
  • 68% had a diagnosis of cancer.

The Support and Consultation for End of Life New Zealand (SCENZ) Group, which maintains a record of health professionals who provide assisted dying services, lists 148 practitioners as of 31 March 2023.

The report also notes that a growing number of GPs are providing assisted dying services to their own patients. They represent a workforce in addition to those registered on the SCENZ list.

The report shows the VAD legislation continues to operate safely and as intended. Of the 16 complaints received by the Registrar (assisted dying), three were referred to the Health and Disability Commissioner and are under review. No complaints were received by the New Zealand Police in relation to the assisted dying service during the reporting period.

Read the full report here.

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