Our position on euthanasia and assisted dying
Whilst we recognise that there are a variety of opinions about the recent introduction of the End of Life Choice Act, as an organisation we continue to believe that assisted dying and euthanasia have no place in palliative care. Palliative care, as defined by the World Health Organisation, “intends neither to hasten nor postpone death”. This philosophy is a cornerstone of hospice care in New Zealand. Palliative care is holistic – physical, emotional, spiritual, social and cultural needs are all valued equally.
Euthanasia and assisted dying have been made legal in New Zealand with the introduction of the End of Life Choice Act in November 2021. Any health services, including hospices, can decide if they want to provide assisted dying services or not, and they may also choose to conscientiously object, a right that was confirmed in a Declaratory Judgment of the High Court of New Zealand in 2020. No individual or organisation will be compelled to provide assisted dying.
However, it is important to note that while hospices may not provide assisted dying services, they will continue to support people regardless of their desire for assisted dying or euthanasia.
We appreciate and acknowledge an individual’s right to choose and acknowledge the wide range of perspectives around assisted death.
People living with a terminal illness should be supported to live in whatever way is important to them, their family and whānau.
It is our firm belief that people should have access to good palliative care support regardless of where they live. We need to address issues of access to care, social isolation, and lack of support for family carers so that people have real choice about how they die.
What we believe
As an organisation we appreciate that there are a range of views on this challenging and emotive topic; we respect that everyone has the right to their opinion. There are varying views from a spiritual, religious or cultural perspective, which may not be the same for all individuals within a group or culture. We acknowledge the impact these beliefs will have on the way a person thinks about assisted dying or euthanasia.
Hospices in New Zealand believe that improving access to hospice and palliative care services should be the priority for Government. This will ensure everyone receives quality care regardless of age, gender, ethnicity, socio-economic status or location. Only when all New Zealanders have equitable access to good quality end-of-life care can a balanced discussion begin.
All people should be made aware of options for hospice and palliative care and should be offered an individual assessment of their needs to ensure that appropriate palliative care is being provided. This should be an integral part of advance care planning.
Greater education of all health professionals is needed to dispel the myths surrounding pain and symptom relief and all aspects of end-of-life care. We encourage all those prescribing medication and providing palliative care to consult with hospice specialist clinicians and other palliative care experts where necessary.
We believe that palliative care should be routinely available to all who need it, and Government should make sufficient funding available to ensure access to palliative care, whether provided in a hospital, at home, in residential care facilities or by hospice teams.
Why do we feel this way?
From experience, we know that with the right palliative care a person can have a good quality of life with their dignity maintained and symptoms managed to help them feel as comfortable as possible until their death.
With the legalisation of assisted dying, pressure may be placed on vulnerable people – those living with disabilities, mental health issues, terminal illness – for fear of being a financial, emotional or care burden.
Good palliative care is founded on a trusting relationship between patient, family, whanau and health professional, which may be undermined by assisted dying or euthanasia. Dying is a natural process and part of life, we must focus on helping people to live well until they die. We would like to encourage people to talk about their wishes when it comes to the end of life, informing family and friends what is important to them.
See a story on how All New Zealanders deserve to end their life well.
What do others think?
As an organisation we support the thinking of many groups on this topic. Links to their websites and/or statements below:
- Palliative Care Nurses New Zealand position statement
- Care Alliance
- International Association for Hospice Palliative Care
Hospice NZ has a number of resources on this website that will be useful to inform discussion on this subject, including our Written Submission to the Health Select Committee (2016) and our Hospice NZ Submission – Justice Select Committee – End of Life Choice Bill Feb 2018
Hospice NZ would like to acknowledge and thank all those who contributed to the review of this statement.
Last updated November 2021