End of life: Assisted dying

Assisted dying is the choice for a person to receive medication to relieve suffering and end their life.

There are various reasons why you, a family member or a friend may want an assisted death. Common reasons may be a deterioration in autonomy or a deterioration in quality of life, but everyone is different and will have their own reasons or views on assisted dying.

Assisted dying is also not a replacement for palliative care or health care services more generally.

Eligibility criteria

The Ministry of Health eligibility criteria for assisted dying in New Zealand is strict. To be eligible, you must meet all of the following criteria:

  • Be aged 18 years or over
  • Be a citizen or permanent resident of New Zealand
  • Suffer from a terminal illness that is likely to end your life within six months
  • Be in an advanced state of irreversible decline in physical capability
  • Experience unbearable suffering that cannot be relieved in a manner that you consider tolerable
  • Be competent to make an informed decision about assisted dying

You will need two medical practitioners to agree that you meet the criteria in order to end your life through the End of Life Choice Act. If either of the medical practitioners are uncertain on whether you are competent to make an informed decision, a psychiatrist will assess your competency to confirm your eligibility. If there is uncertainty whether pressure has been imposed on your decision, a psychiatrist can be called upon for further review.

If during any stage of the process, it is suspected that you are: being pressured into the decision; you are no longer able to make an informed decision; or you no longer meet all the eligibility criteria, the process will discontinue.

The eligibility criteria also means that a person cannot receive assisted dying solely because they are suffering from a mental disorder or mental illness, have a disability, or are of advanced age.

Who can you talk to?

Assisted dying becomes legal in New Zealand on 7 November 2021. Those who wish to receive assisted dying and think they meet the eligibility criteria can:

  • Ask a health practitioner about assisted dying
  • Ask the Support and Consultation for End of Life in New Zealand (SCENZ) group for the contact details of a medical practitioner to be formally assessed (contact details will be available from 7 November 2021).

A health practitioner cannot discuss assisted dying with you unless you raise it with the health practitioner first.

It is encouraged you talk with your family/whānau, friends and counsellors about your wish for assisted dying. However, you are not required to if you don’t want to.

If a family member, friend, carer or anyone else is pressuring you to consider assisted dying, this is elder abuse. If you are being pressured into the decision to end your life, tell the medical/nurse practitioner or visit our Elder abuse: Where to get help page.

How and when you wish to end your life

If you are eligible and proceed with your decision to receive an assisted death:

  • You will be asked to choose the date and time you’d like the medication to be administered. Once you have chosen the date and time for the administration of the medication, you can follow through with this date, choose to delay the date for up to six months from the date originally chosen, or cancel your request for assisted dying. To delay the date by longer than six months, you will need to reapply for assisted dying.
  • You will be asked to choose where you want to be when the medication is administered, such as in hospital or at home. You can also choose if you would like whānau or other people present.
  • You will be asked to choose how you would like the medication to be administered. You can choose to self-administer the medication (in the presence of a medical or nurse practitioner) or that a medical or nurse practitioner administer the medication.

Some of the above choices may not be appropriate or possible depending your condition. In this case, your medical or nurse practitioner will be able to provide advice on your options.

You have the right to change your mind at any time until administering the medication.

Websites of interest

  • More information on the End of Life Choice Act can be found on the Ministry of Health website
  • Information on the End of Life Choice Act implementation can be found here
  • The contact details for medical practitioners on the Support and Consultation for End of Life in New Zealand (SCENZ) list, will be published on the Ministry of Health website on the 7 November 2021