Euthanasia could be made legal for terminally ill people in New Zealand - what it means

New Zealand has voted to legalise euthanasia after preliminary results of a referendum showed 65.2 per cent of voters were in favour of the new law.

The End of Life Choice Act will allow terminally ill people with fewer than six months left to live the opportunity to choose assisted dying, if approved by two doctors.

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The final outcome of the referendum will not be confirmed until 6 November, with the preliminary results not including an estimated 480,000 special votes, including overseas ballots. If successful, the new law is expected to come into effect in November 2021.

Campaigners have called the result “a victory for compassion and kindness.”

The new law was backed by both Prime Minister Jacinda Arden and the opposition leader, Judith Collins.

What does the new law say?

There are a number of criteria a person must meet to ask for assisted dying. These include:

suffering from a terminal illness that's likely to end their life within six monthsshowing a significant decline in physical capabilitybeing able to make an informed decision about assisted dying

The legislation authorises a doctor or nurse to administer or prescribe a lethal dose of medication, to be taken under their supervision, if all the conditions are met.

The law also says a person cannot be eligible for assisted dying on the basis of advanced age, mental illness, or disability alone.

What is euthanasia?

Euthanasia is the act of intentionally ending a life to relieve suffering. For example, this could be done through a lethal injection administered by a doctor. Euthanasia differs from assisted suicide because of who performs the final act.

Assisted suicide is the act of intentionally helping another person to end their life.

In which other countries is euthanasia legal?

New Zealand will be joining several countries where euthanasia is currently legal.

Belgium, Luxembourg, Canada and Colombia all allow both euthanasia and assisted suicide. There are differences, however, with only terminally ill patients allowed to request it in Colombia, and no age restriction in Belgium.

Switzerland and the Netherlands are the most well known countries for euthanasia. In Switzerland, assisted suicide is legal, but euthanasia is illegal. The Netherlands has legalised both euthanasia and assisted suicide.

A number of US states, including California, Colorado, Hawaii, New Jersey, Washington State, Vermont and the District of Columbia, have legalised assisted suicide.

What about the UK?

Euthanasia and assisted suicide are both illegal in the UK.

Assisting someone with suicide could result in a sentence of up to 14 years in prison.