Frequently asked questions

Find out more about the End of Life Choice Act

At the 2020 General Election, you can vote in a referendum on whether you support the End of Life Choice Act 2019. A referendum is a vote on a proposal or issue.

The purpose of the End of Life Choice Act 2019 is to give people with a terminal illness the option of legally asking for medical assistance to end their lives. The Act uses words and language you might not be familiar with. It's important you fully understand what you're voting for in the referendum.

Browse this section to find the answers to some of the most frequently asked questions.


The referendum question and process

What question will I be asked when I vote at the referendum?

The question is:

Do you support the End of Life Choice Act 2019 coming into force?

You can choose 1 of these 2 answers:

  • Yes, I support the End of Life Choice Act 2019 coming into force
  • No, I do not support the End of Life Choice Act 2019 coming into force.

‘Coming into force’ means that the Act would start operating as law in New Zealand.

What happens after the vote?

If more than 50% of voters in the referendum vote 'Yes', the End of Life Choice Act 2019 will come into force 12 months after the date the results are announced.

If more than 50% of voters in the referendum vote 'No', the End of Life Choice Act 2019 will not come into force.


Receiving assisted dying

What does 'assisted dying' mean?

In the End of Life Choice Act, assisted dying means:

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

In the Act, medication means a lethal dose of medication used for assisted dying.

What are the eligibility criteria for assisted dying?

To be eligible for assisted dying, a person must meet ALL of the following criteria. They must:

  • 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 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 the person considers tolerable
  • be able to make an informed decision about assisted dying.

A person cannot receive assisted dying if the only reason they give is that they are suffering from a mental disorder or mental illness, have a disability of any kind, or are of advanced age.

Who would be considered able to make an informed decision about assisted dying?

A person must be competent to make an informed decision about assisted dying. This means that they must be able to do ALL of the following things:

  • understand information about the nature of assisted dying
  • retain information about assisted dying to the extent necessary to make the decision
  • use or weigh up information about assisted dying to inform their decision
  • communicate their decision about assisted dying in some way.

Can a person change their mind after requesting assisted dying?

Yes. The person's doctor must ensure that the person knows that they can change their mind at any time.

When the person chooses the method for receiving the medication, their doctor must again make sure they know they can change their mind at any time.

Additionally, before the medication is administered, the attending doctor or nurse practitioner must ask the person if they choose to receive the medication.

No particular form of words is required to be written or said by the person to show they have changed their mind. The person can use gestures to communicate to the attending doctor or nurse practitioner.

The person can also choose to delay the date to receive assisted dying by up to 6 months.

Does a person need to discuss their decision with their family?

No. A person who chooses to receive assisted dying does not have to discuss their wish with anyone if they don't want to. However, their doctor must encourage the person to discuss their wish with family, friends and counsellors, and must ensure the person has the opportunity to do so.

How will assisted dying medication be administered?

An eligible person can choose 1 of 4 options for how they wish to receive assisted dying medication.

  1. Ingestion, triggered by the person.
  2. Intravenous delivery, triggered by the person.
  3. Ingestion through a tube, triggered by the attending doctor or nurse practitioner.
  4. Injection, administered by the attending doctor or nurse practitioner.

Can a welfare guardian make decisions about assisted dying on behalf of a protected person?

No. A welfare guardian appointed under the Protection of Personal Property Rights Act 1988 does not have the power to make any decision, or take any action, about assisted dying for the protected person.

Can advance directives allow for assisted dying?

No. An advance directive is a statement signed by a person setting out ahead of time a treatment wanted, or not wanted, in the future. A request for assisted dying in an advance directive is not permitted under the Act.

Will receiving assisted dying affect a person's life insurance?

No. For the purpose of any life insurance contract, or any other contract, a person who dies as a result of assisted dying is taken to have died from the terminal illness from which they suffered, as if assisted dying had not been provided.


Roles and responsibilities of health practitioners

Who decides whether a person is eligible for assisted dying?

The opinions of 2 doctors are required about whether the person is eligible for assisted dying or would be eligible if their competence were established. If either doctor is unsure of the person's ability to make a decision about assisted dying, a psychiatrist needs to assess the person. If the opinion is reached that the person is not eligible, the process ends. The doctors, and the psychiatrist if appropriate, must explain the reasons for their opinion to the person requesting assisted dying.

What does the Act require so that decisions are freely made?

The doctor must do their best to make sure that a person's decision to receive assisted dying is made of their own free will. If, at any time, the doctor or nurse practitioner suspects a person is being pressured about their decision, they must stop the process and advise the Registrar.

The Act includes a number of steps that aim to check whether a person's decision about assisted dying is freely made, including requiring that the doctor does ALL of the following things. The doctor must:

  • regularly discuss the choice with the person
  • make sure the person understands their other options for end-of-life care
  • make sure the person knows they can change their mind at any time
  • talk with other health practitioners who are in regular contact with the person
  • talks, with the person's permission, with members of their family.

The person confirms their request in a form which is shared with the Registrar (this person is a Ministry of Health official who would oversee the process of assisted dying). The person making the request must sign and date the form. If they are unable to write, they may request that someone signs the form on their behalf. The person signing on their behalf must not know that they could benefit from the person's death. The doctor and the person making the request must be present when the form is signed.

When the method for administering the medication is chosen, the doctor must ensure the person knows they can change their mind at any time.

Before the medication is administered, the doctor or nurse practitioner must ask if the person chooses to receive the medication. If they choose not to receive it, the medication is removed and the assisted dying process stopped.

What if a doctor objects to providing assisted dying?

Conscientious objection is when a person refuses to carry out a procedure based on their personal beliefs. No health practitioner has to help a person with assisted dying if they have a conscientious objection.

If the doctor has a conscientious objection, they must tell the person who has requested assisted dying, and tell the person that they have a right to ask for the name and contact details of a replacement doctor.

If a person informs their doctor that they wish to receive assisted dying, and that doctor has a conscientious objection, the doctor must:

  • tell the person of their conscientious objection
  • tell the person they have the right to ask the Support and Consultation for End of Life in New Zealand (SCENZ) Group for the name and contact details of a replacement doctor.

For more information, see 'What is the SCENZ Group?'.

Can a health practitioner suggest assisted dying when they're providing a health service?

No. Under the Act, a health practitioner is not allowed to start any discussion about assisted dying, or suggest that a person consider assisted dying, while they are providing a health service to that person. A doctor can discuss assisted dying, and provide information about it, if it is first raised by the person.

Any health practitioner who starts a discussion or makes a suggestion about assisted dying may be subject to proceedings by the Health and Disability Commissioner or in Human Rights Review Tribunal.


Administering the Act

Who would oversee assisted dying?

Three roles within the health system would oversee assisted dying to make sure everyone involved follows the processes in the Act. The three roles would be:

  • the Support and Consultation for End of Life in New Zealand (SCENZ) Group
  • the End of Life Review Committee
  • the Registrar (assisted dying).

What is the SCENZ Group?

SCENZ would be established by the Director-General of Health and have the following responsibilities:

  • make and maintain a list of doctors who are willing to act as replacement and/or independent doctors
  • provide contact details for replacement and independent doctors when required in a way that ensures the doctor does not choose the replacement or independent doctor
  • make and maintain a list of health practitioners who are willing to act as psychiatrists
  • provide contact details for psychiatrists when required in a way that ensures the 2 doctors do not choose the psychiatrist
  • make and maintain a list of pharmacists who are willing to dispense medication under the Act; and provide contact details when required
  • in relation to the administration of the medication:
    • prepare standards of care
    • advise on the required medical and legal procedures
    • provide practical assistance if requested.

What is the End of Life Review Committee?

The End of Life Review Committee would be appointed by the Minister of Health. The Committee would include a medical ethicist, a doctor specialising in end-of-life care, and 1 other health practitioner.

The role of the Committee would be to:

  • consider reports provided by the doctor or nurse practitioner about the assisted death of a person under the Act
  • report to the Registrar whether it considers that the information contained in an assisted death report shows satisfactory compliance with the requirements of the Act
  • direct the Registrar to follow up on any information contained in an assisted death report if it considers the report does not show satisfactory compliance with the Act.

Who is the Registrar (assisted dying)?

The Registrar would be an employee of the Ministry of Health, appointed by the Director-General of Health. The Registrar's role would be to:

  • check that the processes required by the Act have been complied with
  • notify the doctor if they are satisfied that the processes have been complied with before the administration of assisted dying medication.

The Registrar must also establish and maintain a register of:

  • approved forms held by the Registrar
  • reports from the End of Life Review Committee
  • the Registrar's reports to the responsible Minister.

The Registrar must also receive complaints and refer complaints under the Act to the appropriate authority, such as the Health and Disability Commissioner or the New Zealand Police.

The Registrar must report annually to the responsible Minister. The responsible Minister must then provide a copy of the report to the House of Representatives.

Will the law be reviewed?

If the Act comes into force, the Ministry of Health must review it within 3 years, and every 5 years after that.


Development of the Act

Where can I read the Act in full?

The End of Life Choice Act 2019 is available for you to read in full online.

End of Life Choice Act 2019 at legislation.govt.nz

Where can I see the submissions received during public consultation on the Act?

Public consultation on the Act took place as part of the select committee process in 2018. The Justice Committee considered almost 40,000 submissions and pieces of advice.

For more information about this process and to view the submissions, visit the Parliament website.

End of Life Choice Act 2019 submissions at parliament.govt.nz


Preparing for 2 referendums in 2020

Where can I find more information?

Explore the sections on this website to learn more about the End of Life Choice Act 2019 and the proposed Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill. This information has been designed to help you feel informed ahead of your vote.

View printable resources about the End of Life Choice referendum

Read the End of Life Choice Act 2019 in full

Explore information about the cannabis referendum

Frequently asked questions about the cannabis referendum

View printable resources about the cannabis referendum