Euthanasia referendum: Medical experts call for increased support for palliative care

Medical experts are calling for increased support for palliative care services and workers, with the euthanasia referendum looking set to pass.

The preliminary results of the euthanasia and cannabis referendums were released on Friday afternoon, almost two weeks on from the NZ election.

Kiwis voted against legalising cannabis with 53.1 percent of the country saying 'no', but euthanasia almost certain to pass with 65.2 percent voting 'yes' to the End of Life Choice Act.

University of Auckland medical researcher Tanisha Jowsey said it's a massive moment in New Zealand's history.

"The public has voted that they want options for terminally ill people who are suffering. This is about dignity, respect, autonomy," she said.

Jowsey is one of many medical professionals wanting more support for palliative services when the bill is implemented. She said healthcare professionals should be looked after as much as patients.

"We need to support palliative services across the board to promote patients feeling valued, dignified, supported during their palliative journeys."

President of the College of GPs Samantha Murton agreed there needs to be "robust training and support" for palliative care workers involved in euthanasia.

"The process that needs to happen over the next 12 months is that those that are willing to be involved have got the skills and the training and the support to be able to do it well, and those that don't want to be involved have got the ability to make that stand to say they don't want to be involved."

Dr Murton said a boost to palliative care should go hand-in-hand with the End of Life Choice Act.

"We would also like to see that palliative care and end of life care improve as well so people don't feel like this is the only choice they have."

She said doctors are concerned people will make irrational decisions.

"The biggest challenge is we want to make sure that patients are safe," she said.

"There has been a lot of conversation over time about the sense of people being coerced or feeling pressured or just saying, 'This is the easy option, I won't burden my family any more,' or those sorts of things. 

"That's what we don't want to go down... Making sure the people who are choosing it are choosing it freely and also have the full-bodied knowledge to make those choices."

Special votes on the referendum are due to be counted next week when it will be confirmed if the Act will become law. 

Jowsey hopes any amendments made by future Governments to protect vulnerable people, will not compromise terminally ill patients.

She said it will be a fine balancing act.

"People who genuinely are suffering, you don't want to be jumping through so many hoops of paperwork that they have no energy to jump through either because they are terminally ill."