Assisted dying involves a person who is experiencing unbearable suffering from a terminal illness taking or being given medication to end their life. There are strict eligibility criteria to have an assisted death. –Ministry of Health 

By Ann David

Many applications

The first yearly report from the Ministry of Health’s Assisted Dying Secretariat shows that 661 people applied for assisted dying. For a number of reasons, only 257 people came through the system in that timeframe with 74 cases still open at the time of the review.  

Stats New Zealand tells us that during the whole 12 months of 2022, total deaths were 38,574.  

A quick summary shows that during the 12-month period from 7 November 2021 to 6 November 2022, 661 people applied for assisted dying, of which just under 20% came from the Central Region that includes the Kāpiti Coast. 

Cancer the main reason

The primary underlying reason for assisted deaths was cancer at 68%.  Cancer accounts for only 25% of deaths in the total population. The reason for this over-representation among assisted deaths is accounted for by the tight eligibilty criteria which restricts access to assisted dying to those whose death prognosis is “6 months or less”.  

Cancer is more predictable than other diseases. 

Most applicants ineligible because of the narrow criteria

During the 4 – 6 week process of application and two independent medical assessments, a total of 189 applicants were found to be ineligible.  The major reasons were: 

  • Not suffering from a terminal illness likely to end life in 6 months or less
  • Not experiencing unbearable suffering unable to be relieved
  • Not in an advanced state of decline in physical capability.

Other initial applicants did not complete the process due to the following primary reasons: 

  • Died in the process of application (140) 
  • Application still open at the time of the review (74) 
  • Lost competency during the process
  • Decided to withdraw.

Need to broaden the criteria

Assisted dying in New Zealand is regulated by the Ministry of Health under the End of Life Choice Act 2019.  The Act is due for review after November 2024.  

The End-of-Life Choice Society NZ hopes that parliament can be convinced to broaden the eligibility criteria so disease sufferers, in addition to those suffering with cancer, will be permitted to access a peaceful death as a legal part of end-of-life care.  Join us on 

(Waikanae-based Ann David is President of the End-of-Life Choice Society NZ)