Implementation of the End of Life Choice Act 2019

November 2021

The End of Life Choice Act 2019 (“The Act”) was brought into effect by a referendum at the 2020 General Election. The Act enables an eligible person to have the option of legally requesting assisted dying from 7 November 2021. It is not a replacement for palliative care or health services more generally. It provides another option for people with terminal illnesses in certain circumstances.

The purpose of The Act is recorded as giving persons who have a terminal illness and who meet certain criteria the option of lawfully requesting medical assistance to end their lives; and to establish a lawful process for assisting an eligible person who wishes to exercise that option.

To meet the “certain criteria” the person must:

  • be aged 18 years or over;
  • be either a New Zealand citizen or a permanent resident;
  • suffer from a terminal illness that is likely to end their life within 6 months;
  • be in an advanced state of irreversible decline in physical capability;
  • experience unbearable suffering that cannot be relieved in a manner that they consider tolerable; and
  • be competent to make an informed decision about assisted dying.

The eligibility requirement to be a New Zealand citizen or permanent resident means that a person is eligible for funded health care services.

The Act includes safeguards such as:

  • only the patient may raise the subject. This means that a health practitioner may not initiate the conversation about the possibility of assisted dying;
  • assisted dying is a multi-step process, and at each stage forms must be sent to a Registrar; these will confirm the criteria, but will also advise the Registrar if the process is brought to an end for any reason;
  • two different medical practitioners must independently confirm that the patient is eligible for assisted dying and that they genuinely want to end their life;
  • if either medical practitioner is unsure whether the patient is competent to make the decision, the patient must then be referred to a psychiatrist to determine competence;
  • after eligibility is confirmed, and again before the medication is administered, the patient must be reminded of their right to change their mind; and
  • at any stage the medical practitioner can end the process if they believe that there is pressure being placed on the patient.

Life Insurance policies typically include an exclusion if a person dies as a result of suicide or other intentional self-injury. However, Section 35 of the Act provides that, a person who dies as a result of assisted dying is for the purposes of any life insurance contract (or any other contract) is taken to have died from the terminal illness suffered, and as if assisted dying had not been provided. This will mean that generally life insurance policies remain valid.

How can we help?

With the introduction of this new legislation, the process governing assisted dying is now likely to form part of a wider conversation around wills, enduring powers of attorney and advance care plans.

If you have any questions about the End of Life Choice Act or Estate Planning generally please contact:

Kate Warren
027 384 3054

Alana Crampton
021 965 801

IMPORTANT: The information in this article is of a general nature only and does not constitute legal advice. Tavendale and Partners do not accept any liability for any reliance placed on the information contained in this article and shall not be liable to you or anyone else for doing something, or omitting to do something, on the information provided above.