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voters will be asked to decide yes or no to assisted dying in a referendum to be held during the October 17.

The End of Life Choice Act will take effect only if more than 50% vote ‘‘yes’’.

Reporter Simon Henderson spoke to two local medical professionals on each side of the end-of-life debate.

Marian Hamilton, of Ettrick, spent 16 years as the Teviot Valley Rest Home’s first nurse manager.

She also worked with the Roxburgh Medical Centre as a Primary Response in Medical Emergencies (Prime) practitioner , ‘‘which is the call-outs to emergencies after hours’’.

Now retired, her experience has informed her choice to vote no in the referendum.

She was a firm believer in supporting a person having a very comfortable death, whenever possible, but for her the End of Life Choice Act was ‘‘too open to abuse’’ in particular for ‘‘our very vulnerable aged people’’.

She had seen examples of families ‘‘putting pressure on people to get their money, which is not a nice thing but it happens’’.

This would not happen in the majority of families, but Ms Hamilton said she had ‘‘been exposed’’ to this behaviour.

‘‘A lot of the vulnerable old people say, ‘Oh well, I’m just a nuisance. It would be better if I went’.’’

But it was difficult to be sure if that was genuinely their thought or if it was based on pressure from others.

Another concern as a practitioner was ‘‘somebody is going to have to administer the fatal dose’’.

That was putting a lot of pressure on practitioners ‘‘whose aim is to preserve life’’.

‘‘As a practitioner that is something that I wouldn’t be able to do. That is my personal view,’’ Ms Hamilton said.

Giving people control over their own lives was important for Roxburgh Medical Centre practice nurse Frans Theewis.

He supported the End of Life Choice Act.

‘‘I’m not going to judge anybody on their decision, but I would like it to be available to people ,’’ Mr Theewis said.

One reason he supported the Act was there were robust systems in place for anyone considering assisted dying.

‘‘I know there are good regulations around the choice being acted upon.’’

He had spent time researching end-of-life issues and how assisted dying operated in other countries.

One factor he pointed out from his research on practices in other countries was people who had the choice of assisted dying often decided not to go through with it.

‘‘I have seen enough people in a dying situation, and to know they have lost control that is part of the angst that goes with dying,’’ Mr Theewis said.

When people had the choice they were able to feel more in control.

‘‘So if you have control you feel ‘OK I am getting enough help here, I don’t need to take this extra step’.’’

‘‘Having good information is having control.’’

Yes to choice . . . Frans Theewis, of Alexandra, will be voting “yes” in the End of Life Choice referendum. PHOTO: SIMON HENDERSON

 

End of Life Choice Act will depend on voters

In this year’s general election, you can vote in a referendum on whether you support the End of Life Choice Act 2019.

Parliament has passed the End of Life Choice Act, but it has not come into force yet.

The Act will take effect only if more than 50% of voters in the referendum vote ‘‘yes’’.

If that happens, people with a terminal illness will have the option of requesting assisted dying.

Assisted dying means a person’s doctor or nurse practitioner giving them a lethal dose of medication to relieve their suffering by bringing on death; or the taking of a lethal dose of medication by the person to relieve their suffering by bringing on death.

To be eligible to ask for assisted dying, a person must meet all the following criteria. They must:

– be 18 years or older;
– be a citizen or permanent resident of New Zealand;
– suffer from a terminal illness that is likely to end their life within six months;
– have significant and ongoing decline in physical capability;
– experience unbearable suffering that cannot be eased;
– and be able to make an informed decision about assisted dying.

Under the Act, a person is able to make an informed decision if they can do all of the following things:

– understand information about assisted dying;
– remember information about assisted dying in order to make the decision;
– use or weigh up information about assisted dying when making their decision;
– and communicate their decision in some way.

The person’s doctor and an independent doctor must agree that the person meets all the criteria.

If either doctor is unsure of the person’s ability to make that decision, a psychiatrist needs to assess the person.

If a person is not eligible, they cannot receive assisted dying.

A person would not be eligible to ask for assisted dying if the only reason they give is they are suffering from a mental disorder or mental illness; they have a disability of any kind; or they are of advanced age.

The doctor must do their best to make sure that a person’s choice to ask for assisted dying is their own.

If, at any time, the doctor or nurse practitioner thinks a person is being pressured about their decision, they must stop the process.

A health practitioner will not be allowed to suggest that a person consider assisted dying when providing a health service to them.

If the person is eligible, they choose a method, date and time for taking the medication.

If more than 50% of people vote ‘‘yes’’ in the referendum, the End of Life Choice Act will come into force 12 months after the date the final votes are announced.

referendums.govt.nz