How will end-of-life law affect nurses?

November 1, 2020

NZNO will start drawing up guidelines for nurses over the next 12 months on how to work within the new end-of-life law next year.

In last month’s referendum, 65 per cent voted in favour of the End of Life Choice Act, which will come into effect in November 2021.


NZNO policy adviser Sue Gasquoine said now the act would become law, NZNO would be launching a research project among members, subject to ethics approval, on what clinical practice support nurses in Aotearoa New Zealand needed when nursing people at the end of life.


The research findings would inform a member survey, the responses to which would then form the basis of a national nursing framework.

“A valid framework for Aotearoa New Zealand would need to support nurses working in ‘mainstream’ end-of-life care and practising te ao Māori,” Gasquoine said.

NZNO had not taken a position on end-of-life legislation, but would support its members to work within the law. That included opting out of providing end-of-life care, which was provided for in the act, Gasquoine said.


“NZNO’s stance on the bill, and now the act, is that while there are members representing the full spectrum of views on end-of-life choice, the concern is to support members to work within the law as they care for patients and their whānau who are making choices about end of life.”

Following NZNO submissions in 2018, nurse practitioners were included among health practitioners who would provide care for people who choose to use the act to end their life, Gasquoine said.

NZNO hoped to lead or collaborate with organisations such as the Ministry of Health, Nursing Council, College of Nurses Aotearoa and medical colleges to develop guidelines for practitioners. It was also important to brief incoming Minister of Health Andrew Little on the need for nursing input as the Government prepared to implement the act over the next 12 months, she said.

NZNO acting associate professional services manager Kate Weston said nurses must “absolutely” be represented on the Support and Consultation for End of Life in New Zealand (SCENZ) group. SCENZ will keep records of health professionals willing to participate in assisted dying, maintain standards of care, and provide legal, medical and practical advice to health professionals.

“Some may be prescribing, but for most it will be in providing the actual care and we must have a voice in what this looks like,” Weston said.

Results of cannabis referendum

With cannabis referendum results appearing to reject change, pending special votes, Gasquoine said there was disappointment over losing a potential opportunity to control and license cannabis products, potency and sales.

“The overall aim of reducing use and harm and the significant inequity that sees young Māori with criminal offences rather than addiction treatment options, are less likely to be realised now that cannabis use remains a criminal justice issue rather than becoming a health issue,” she said.