Assisted dying

From 7 November, if you have a terminal illness and meet specific criteria, you can ask for help to end your life.

Key points about assisted dying

  1. Assisted dying involves the person taking or being given medicine to end their life.
  2. There are clear guidelines around who will be able to ask for assisted dying.
  3. Only the person themselves can make the decision after considering all relevant information.
  4. They need to be able to make an informed choice and, although they can talk to whānau about it, nobody else can make that choice for them. Read about informed consent
  5. The person must still be able to be sure about their decision at the time when they choose to die.
This is a sensitive topic. If you are upset by reading this information and would like somebody to talk to about it, you can call or text 1737 to speak to a trained counsellor for free.

What is assisted dying?

Assisted dying is when a person who meets specific criteria is helped to end their own life by taking or being given medicine. It is also known as assisted suicide. It will be made legal on 7 November 2021 through the End of Life Choice Act 2019, which was supported by 65% of the public  in a referendum in 2020.

Assisted dying is different from what can happen now for people who do not want to be resuscitated if something such as a serious stroke or heart attack occurs, or when treatment is stopped for somebody who is close to dying. Those issues are correctly covered by either an advanced directive or an enduring power of attorney (EPA).

An advance directive is where you indicate your choice of management when you are very ill and wish to request no intervention. An EPA is where you nominate someone who will make decisions for you should you be unable to do so. This person is usually a relative. Neither of those options allows anyone else to make the decision about assisted dying for you. 

How do I know if I meet the criteria for assisted dying?

To be eligible to request assisted dying you must be:
  • aged 18 years or older
  • a New Zealand citizen or permanent resident
  • suffering from a terminal illness that is likely to end your life within 6 months
  • experiencing a serious decline in physical health that cannot be reversed
  • experiencing unbearable suffering that cannot be relieved
  • competent to make an informed decision about assisted dying.

All of these conditions must be met. You are not eligible because you are very old, or because you have dementia, a mental illness or a disability.

If you are a permanent resident, and are overseas when you are faced with a decision of this nature, you may return to New Zealand and proceed when you arrive back here. 

Who would decide that I meet the criteria for assisted dying?

The decision about whether or not a person meets the criteria for assisted dying must be made by 2 medical practitioners. Both have to agree that you meet the criteria and that you are competent to make an informed choice.

Where there is disagreement as to your capacity to give consent, a psychiatrist may be asked to help decide whether you are able to make the decision yourself. in order to make an informed decision, you must know and understand all the information relative to your condition, treatment options and the time available to you.

How do I get started if I want to make a request for assisted dying?

The first step is to talk to your own doctor about it. Doctors are not allowed to suggest assisted dying as an option for somebody who is terminally ill so you have to raise the topic yourself. If your doctor objects to assisting people to die, they will tell you and advise you how to contact a doctor who will help. A list of health practitioners who are willing to provide assisted dying services will be set up by the Support and Consultation for End of Life in New Zealand (SCENZ) Group before 7 November.

Can somebody else make the decision for me?

No, it has to be your choice and nobody else’s. Your doctor cannot make the choice for you and neither can a member of your whānau – even if they have power of attorney. You are not even required to talk to your whānau about it if you don’t want to, although you will be encouraged to.

Your doctor needs to be assured that you are not under pressure to make this decision. This may involve talking to family/whānau members or other health professionals who have helped you in the recent past. You would be advised if this is going to happen.

What if I change my mind about assisted dying?

You are free to change your mind at any point in the decision making process and right up to when you are given the medicine. You can delay the time of assisted dying for up to 6 months or cancel the request altogether.

Can I set the process up now in case I can’t decide for myself in the future?

No, because you need to be able to be sure about being assisted to die right up to the point where you take or are given the medicine. This means being of sound mind at that time.

Your doctors will discuss with you various options. These may include palliative care, and the methods used to keep you comfortable and free of pain.

How would I be assisted to die?

Medical doctors and nurse practitioners are the only health professionals able to administer or assist with the use of the assisted-dying medicine. Nurse practitioners have advanced education, clinical training and competence. They have the legal authority to practise beyond the level of a registered nurse.

There are 4 options for how to take the medicine: 

  • Ingestion, triggered by the person (swallowing the medicine yourself).
  • Intravenous delivery, triggered by the person (injecting the medication yourself once a tube has been put into a vein).
  • Ingestion through a tube, triggered by the attending doctor or nurse practitioner (medicine is given through a tube inserted through your nose into your stomach).
  • Injection, administered by the attending doctor or nurse practitioner.

You would be able to choose the method, date and time. A doctor or nurse practitioner would stay with you until you had died. You would be able to have whānau with you if you wanted. Some of these options may not be suitable for everyone.

Does a decision to use assisted dying affect m life insurance?

Your life insurance is not affected by your decision to proceed with assisted dying.

Learn more

The following links provide further information about assisted dying. Be aware that websites from other countries may have information that differs from New Zealand’s policy.

About the End of Life Choice Act 2019 Ministry of Health, NZ
Assisted dying – what you need to know about the new law Consumer NZ

Note: This page will be regularly updated as more resources about assisted dying in Aotearoa New Zealand are developed.

Reviewed by

After 45 years of GP experience, and 8 years as an examiner and practice assessor, Dr Bryan Frost has completed a Diploma in Editing and is pursuing a new career. He also has a Diploma in Health Administration, with honours in management, and has also completed a paper in Health Care Law.
Credits: Health Navigator Editorial Team. Reviewed By: Dr Bryan Frost, FRNZCGP, Morrinsville Last reviewed: 11 Aug 2021