Who would be eligible for euthanasia and assisted suicide under the Act?

A person is eligible for euthanasia or assisted suicide under the End of Life Choice Act 2019 if:

  • They are 18 years or older,
  • They’re a New Zealand citizen or permanent resident,
  • They suffer “from a terminal illness that is likely to end their life within 6 months,”
  • They are “in an advanced state of irreversible decline in physical capability,”
  • They experience “unbearable suffering that cannot be relieved in a manner that the person considers tolerable”,
  • And they are “competent to make an informed decision about assisted dying.”[1]

The Act also states that someone is not eligible for assisted dying if their sole reason is that they:

  • Are “suffering from any form of mental disorder or mental illness,”
  • Have “a disability of any kind”, or
  • Are “of an advanced age.”[2]

What does this mean in practice?

While the criteria outlined in the End of Life Choice Act may sound clear and reasonable, and seemingly specific about which cases are not eligible, in real world application a much broader group of people would qualify to be assisted to die—including many people we may not initially consider:

  • In reality, a terminal illness with 6 months to live is not a black and white distinction between those who are nearing death and those who are not. Medical professionals gave evidence to the Select Committee describing prognosis as “more of an art than science,” which gets more accurate in the final days and weeks of someone’s life, but when a person is “six or eight months away from [death], [the prognosis] is pretty desperately hopeless as an accurate factor.”[3]
  • Despite the Act stating that no one is eligible for euthanasia or assisted suicide for the sole reason “that the person has a disability of any kind,” many people with disabilities will continue to be eligible and vulnerable to abuse under this legislation.[4] That is, the long-term effects and symptoms of many disabilities can easily become terminal. As one opponent to the Bill with disabilities has said, her condition “could readily become terminal (and thus eligible under that criteria) by refusing life sustaining care and medical treatment.”[5] There is no wording in the Bill that would prevent a person with disabilities from accessing euthanasia by intentionally allowing their own condition to become terminal in this way. It’s also worth noting that many terminal illnesses result in disability, and international experience shows that their reasons for requesting an assisted suicide are largely due to issues synonymous with disability. That is, annual reports on the legislation in Oregon and Washington consistently name loss of autonomy and loss of ability to engage in activities making life enjoyable as reasons for requesting an assisted death.[6]>


[1] End of Life Choice Act 2019, s.4.
[2] End of Life Choice Act 2019, s.4.
[3] House of Lords, Assisted Dying for the Terminally Ill Bill, Volume 1: Report, (2005), 118.
[4] End of Life Choice Act 2019, s.4.
[5] C Freeman, “A Deadly Double Standard,” Defend NZ, https://www.defendnz.co.nz/c-1/watch-claires-story, accessed 6/04/20.
[6] Oregon Public Health Division, Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act 2019 Data Summary; Washington State Department of Health, 2018 Death with Dignity Act Report.

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