​​​​​​​Health system is ready for assisted-dying law

The health system is ready for the implementation of the End of Life Choice Act when it takes effect next month, making assisted dying legal in New Zealand, Health Minister Andrew Little said today.

The law received 65.1 per cent support in a public referendum held alongside last year’s general election and is due to come into force on November 7.

Andrew Little says the Government has appointed a three-person specialist committee to oversee the operation of the Act. Membership of the End of Life Review Committee must include a medical ethicist, a doctor specialising in end-of-life care and a health practitioner.

The first three members of the committee are:

  • Dr Dana Wensley, medical ethicist.
  • Ms Brenda Close, health practitioner.
  • Dr Jane Greville, medical practitioner practising end-of-life care.

“The committee will review reports on assisted deaths and report to the Registrar (assisted dying) at the Ministry of Health and to the Minister of Health,” Andrew Little said.

“This independent review mechanism is one of the many safeguards put in place to ensure the service is operating in line with strict criteria set out by the Act.

“The other body required under the legislation, the Support and Consultation for End of Life in New Zealand group, or SCENZ, was appointed in August. Its responsibilities include maintaining a list of health practitioners providing assisted-dying services, and helping develop and oversee standards of care.”

Andrew Little said the Government had also put in place funding, through the Ministry of Health.

“The Government is committed to ensuring health services are available equally to everyone who needs them, and this includes assisted-dying services,” Andrew Little said.

“We expect that in most circumstances, these services will be provided in the community and will be free for people who meet the strict eligibility criteria.

“Medical and nurse practitioners who provide care as part of the assisted-dying service will be paid for their work and for their travel costs.”

Biographical details for members of the first End of Life Review Committee

Dr Dana Wensley is a barrister and solicitor of the High Court of New Zealand and Commissioner for Resource Management Act hearings. She has previously worked as a registered nurse, solicitor and a senior research fellow. Since 2015, she has been a lawyer-member of the National Ethics Advisory Committee and a community representative on the Hospital Advisory Committee at Nelson Marlborough District Health Board. She is also the current chair of the Tasman District Council’s Regulatory Committee and for the Accessibility for All Forum. She received her doctorate in Medical Law and Ethics from King’s College in London in 2006.

Brenda Close has been the director of nursing at Ashburton Rural Health Services since 2018 and is co-chair Māori of both the Nurses Executive New Zealand and the National Nurse Leaders Group. She has 31 years’ experience managing and handling sophisticated health needs of people in hospitals and communities across Aotearoa and Australia, with a focus on indigenous health, clinical supervision and corporate and clinical governance.

Dr Jane Greville is a palliative care consultant at Harbour Hospice in Auckland and previously worked as the Medical Officer at North Shore Hospice. She is a representative on the executive of the Aotearoa branch of the Australia and New Zealand Society of Palliative Medicine, and previously served as a member of the Board of Dove Hospice. She has more than 30 years’ experience working in health care, primarily in general practice, and has worked specifically in palliative care since 2013.

More information on the implementation of the Act and the End of Life Review Committee can be found at https://www.health.govt.nz/our-work/regulation-health-and-disability-system/end-life-choice-act-implementation/end-life-choice-act-statutory-bodies-and-governance