Euthanasia: What happens if the drugs don’t work?

Radio NZ News 30 March 2021
What happens if a patient doesn’t die during a euthanasia attempt? That’s one of a number of ethical and legal questions being asked by palliative care experts who say we are woefully unprepared to introduce assisted dying.

Senior nursing leaders are also concerned New Zealand won’t be ready when the law takes effect on 7 November.

The nurses union said its request for legal advice had been ignored by the Ministry of Health and nurses fear they could face disciplinary action and be struck off if they go too far discussing euthanasia with a patient.

Palliative care professor Rod MacLeod said ending a life was not always a simple matter.

“I think the public has this idea that assisted dying is quite clear cut – you take the drugs and you’re dead,” MacLeod said.

“But death doesn’t necessarily follow within minutes or even hours, it can take a lot longer and well documented cases of stuff not working.”

It was not yet known which drugs would be used for euthanasia in New Zealand and under the law it would be an offence punishable by a fine of up to $20,000 to reveal the method by which the drugs were administered to the patient.

“You assume that it’s the same as the United States [which] uses for lethal injections for the death penalty,” MacLeod said.

“We know that doesn’t always work. It’s not always that comfortable. It’s not like flicking a switch.”

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