Harbour Hospice has taken a stand against assisted dying, refusing to allow medication designed to hasten death to be administered at any of its facilities.
Hospice staff are also not allowed to be present if the medication is administered elsewhere, such as in a patient’s home or at a hospital. The new policies were announced this month ahead of the implementation of the End of Life Choice Act, which comes into force on November 7.
This means that a person with a terminal illness who meets eligibility criteria can request medication to end their life.
Harbour Hospice chief executive Jan Nichols says Hospice has taken the position based on the “global philosophy of hospice care”, which is “to neither hasten nor postpone death”.
“We are also representing the rights of the relevant health professionals employed by us who, in line with the Act, may have a conscientious objection to provide assisted dying,” she says.
Nevertheless, Ms Nichols says Hospice will continue to care for patients, families and their whānau, regardless of a wish for assisted dying. She expects a large proportion of those who choose assisted dying will want to be at home where it’s familiar, private and comforting.
“If that decision is made while in Hospice care, our specialist team will work positively to transfer care to an authorised assisted dying physician,” she says.
Although they will not be physically present when administering life-ending medication, Hospice support teams will continue to assist families, helping them through their grief and loss.
Ms Nichols says Hospice made submissions prior to the Act being passed, opposing assisted dying and instead advocating more resources for palliative care.
“We still believe that better understanding and greater support for this stage of life would ease a great deal of suffering.”
She says often people fear there will be unbearable pain and other symptoms associated with dying.
“With good palliative care this does not have to be the case,” she says.
Hospice’s objections to the Act included a perceived lack of adequate safeguards, the difficulty of determining how long a person had to live, and the possibility a person may be coerced into ending their life prematurely.
The End of Life Choice Act was passed following a binding referendum held in conjunction with the 2020 General Election. Sixty-five per cent of voters supported the Act, with 34 per cent opposed.