Health Care Providers’ Early Experiences of Assisted Dying in Aotearoa New Zealand: An Evolving Clinical Service
Background In November 2021, assisted dying (AD) became lawful in Aotearoa New Zealand. A terminally ill person may now request, and receive, pharmacological assistance (self-administered or provided by a medical practitioner/nurse practitioner) to end their life, subject to specific legal criteria and processes. Exploring the experiences of health providers in the initial stage of the implementation of the End of Life Choice Act 2019 is vital to inform the ongoing development of safe and effective AD practice, policy and law.
Aim To explore the early experiences of health care providers (HCPs) who do and do not provide AD services seven months after legalisation of AD to provide the first empirical account of how the AD service is operating in New Zealand’s distinctive healthcare environment and cultural context.
Design Qualitative exploratory design using semi-structured individual and focus group interviewing with a range of HCPs.
Results Twenty-six HCPs participated in the study. Through a process of thematic analysis four key themes were identified: (1) Difference in organisational response to AD; (2) challenges in applying the law; (3) experiences at the coal face; and (4) functionality of the AD system.
Conclusion A range of barriers and enablers to successful implementation of AD were described. Adoption of open and transparent organisational policies, ongoing education of the workforce, and measures to reduce stigma associated with AD are necessary to facilitate high quality AD service provision. Future research into the factors that influence responses to, and experience of AD; the impact of institutional objection; and the extent to which HCP perspectives evolve over time would be beneficial. In addition, further research into the integration of AD within Māori health organisations is required.