The woman who could be one of the first New Zealanders to take up assisted dying as End of Life Choice Bill passes

There's a delicate balance between life and death and it's an issue Māori have long grappled with.

Euthanasia advocate Maata Wharehoka says in former times, some iwi used to leave tūpapapaku to die in the elements.

"So the person who was dying they'd put them outside and leave them on the mahua and it was there that they met their death."

Maata Wharehoka lives with crippling lung disease COPD or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Her years of ill health have taken a serious toll - and this is a major reason she supports Euthanasia.

And she's not afraid of death either, having had several near-death experiences.

The closest she came to death was when her doctors switched off her life support after a car crash.

"We talk about the light at the end of the tunnel. And so I've seen that light at the end of the tunnel many times," Wharehoka says

"There was just this moment of haze, very light haze amidst the clouds."

Maata Wharehoka.
Maata Wharehoka. Photo credit: The Hui

Over the past three years, Euthanasia has drawn heated and heartfelt public debate as the End of Life Choice Bill made its way through Parliament.

The Bill will come into force after New Zealanders voted overwhelmingly in favour of it at the End of Life Choice Act referendum.

But some Māori feel the Act doesn't go far enough to protect their communities. Wharehoka says this is a fair criticism.

"There are people like myself who have had a lot of health issues and so that's where I come from - with that in mind, the choices are for them and the choices for me."

The results of the referendum could impact iwi and the Tikanga they practice. In the past, some marae have refused to host suicide tangihanga.

"So if you choose euthanasia - are you welcome to come back into the marae? And I have to say, after all that thinking that the marae is the place where you do all the healing."

With the final results of the Euthanasia Referendum confirmed - Wharehoka is seriously considering her future. She may be one of the first people in this country who could take up the option of assisted dying.

"I like that I've got that opportunity to say yes. I no longer want to live in this body," she told The Hui. 

"I'm sick of breathing the way that I do. I need a lot more oxygen than what I'm getting in my system. I can't do it anymore."

Her daughter Jean Hikaka knows how much her mum is suffering - but that doesn't make the decision any easier.

"We've had some very real conversations - she says 'I don't want to suffer, Jean. I've suffered enough,'" Hikaka says.

While Hikaka is still coming to terms with the decision - Wharehoka's mind is made up and she wants to be able to end her life with dignity.

"To me - there's some beauty in being able to have people present with me in my last moment."

The Hui