The End of Life Choice Act has marked its two year anniversary. Libby Smales, local advocate and member of the national committee of the End of Life Choice Society, says the law, as it is, is working well for many.
However, it could be better.
Smales told BayBuzz that formal and informal feedback had been excellent both locally and nationally.
“Feedback has been sought from families and friends, the patients before they end their lives and the professionals involved with their care. Ministry of Health review and publish their findings in June each year, which makes this second report, June 2023, the first full year report.”
She said the current law was more restrictive than originally intended and was “unintentionally punitive” for some groups of dying patients who needed to use it.
“The dying who are currently disadvantaged include those whose prognosis is difficult to assess, or those who may live/suffer longer than six months, so that even if they have an incurable, irreversibly progressive disease, causing unbearable suffering, they cannot access the legislation as it currently stands.”
Her comments followed ACT leader David Seymour’s comments about hoping for a change in law around the prognosis of an individual.
Seymour said he hoped the law would be amended so people with terminal illnesses did not need a six-month prognosis (i.e., death expected within six months) to be eligible for assisted dying.
“That’s how I originally proposed the law and would give choice and control to many people with degenerative conditions such as, for example, Motor Neuron Disease,” he said.
“To get the bill passed I had to put in place the six-month requirement.”
Smales told BayBuzz other jurisdictions, like the Australian States who have learned from the NZ experience and passed their legislation more recently, used terms like “death within the reasonably foreseeable future”, or within twelve months rather than six.
“We hope that this and other important issues are addressed in next year’s review, to bring our legislation up to date and make it more equitable.”
She said according to MoH data, there have been no breaches of the law over the two years since the legislation was introduced, with nearly 500 successful applicants.
“The numbers are small. In the year ended Dec 2022, there were 38,574 deaths registered in NZ, but having this choice makes a huge difference to those who need it,” she said.
“Some of the heartache relates to those who are not eligible. It is important to remember that a horrible death casts a long shadow, it affects not only the person dying, but also all those who care about them and for them.
“The End-of-Life Choice Society is contacted on a weekly basis, by desperate people whose disease or medical condition is causing them unbearable suffering, but it is not possible to claim with certainty that they will die within six months.”
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