End of Life Choice Act: What assisted dying will look like when it's legalised in New Zealand

In three weeks' time, assisted dying will be legalised in New Zealand.

The End of Life Choice Act is due to come into force on November 7 and hundreds of people are expected to register. This is what that will mean in practice.

Bobbie Carroll is full of life, but short on time. Soon though she'll have a little more control over her future.

From next month she can apply to choose how and when she dies. She has multiple myeloma, a blood cancer, and is now on constant chemotherapy.

But she says she chooses to be happy and she also wants to choose not to suffer at the end.

"I don't want to die on my own, and yet, if I was in real pain or was having a really grizzly death, I probably wouldn't want my grandchildren with me. But I want my grandchildren with me," the End of Life Choice advocate says.

Ministry of Health chief clinical advisor Dr Kristin Good says it's a common request.

"We know from overseas that people want this in their home and they want to be surrounded by the people that they love and that love them or their pets," Dr Good says.

Up to 1000 people are expected to apply in the first year, but not all will opt for it, or be eligible.

Patients must meet strict criteria:

  • Be 18 or over
  • A citizen or permanent resident of New Zealand
  • Suffer from a terminal illness that is likely to end their life within six months
  • Be in an advanced state of irreversible decline in physical capability
  • Experience unbearable suffering
  • Be competent to make an informed decision

So how many people could be assisted to die in the first year?

"If we look to overseas we know that it's between 0.3 and 2 percent of overall deaths. So within New Zealand that could be up to 350 people accessing assisted dying," says Dr Good.

It was David Seymour who introduced the Bill and ACT expects demand to increase.

"Like any new law it takes time for people to know that the choice is available to them but I do expect there will be a few hundred but it would grow over time," says ACT deputy leader Brooke van Velden.

More than 110 medical and nurse practitioners have enlisted to provide the service.

They would travel to the patient to administer the medication, either by mouth or intravenously. GPs can also provide the service, should they choose to, but it's up to the patient to ask.

"As practitioners we aren't allowed to have a conversation about it to start with, it has to be from the patient," says Dr Samantha Murton, president of the Royal New Zealand College of GPs.

It's a conversation Carroll is looking forward to being able to have, when she's ready.

It's treating humans with the same compassion that we treat our cats and dogs," says Carroll. "As soon as I'm in those six months I'll register for it."

So when could the first assisted death happen in New Zealand?

No one will be assisted to die on November 7, but patients can begin the process from that date.

A patient will first need two or three medical assessments to determine if they're eligible. That process is expected to take four to six weeks, so the first assisted death in New Zealand is expected to happen sometime in December.