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Otago research aims to fill gap in views on assisted dying

Clocktower.

Wednesday, 8 November 2017 2:24pm

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A researcher at the University of Otago is hoping to ascertain, for the first time, the collective views about assisted dying from people who are terminally ill and nearing the end of their lives.

Jessica Young, a PhD candidate from the University’s Department of General Practice and Rural Health, is placing an advertisement in newspapers to find people who want to take part in her research into the perspectives of people with a terminal, incurable, degenerative or progressive illness about assisted dying.

JessicaYoungimage
PhD candidate Jessica Young.

“No research with this group has been conducted in New Zealand to date. I would like my research to fill this gap and add to the knowledge about assisted dying from the perspectives of people nearing the end of life,” she says.

Medical aid in dying is when a person, who is terminally ill and competent to make decisions, requests a prescription for a lethal dose of medication which the patient ingests themselves.

“Those with shortened life expectancy are an important group to talk to because they are faced with their own mortality and are in the best position to know how they feel about assisted dying. These are the people who would be directly affected by a law change.”

“So I’m looking for 10-15 volunteers from around New Zealand who are approaching the end of life and have been diagnosed with terminal, incurable, progressive or degenerative illness with less than 12 months life expectancy, and who want to share their story and thoughts on assisted dying with me.”

The interview could be completed over more than one occasion. This is because the volunteers’ well-being, dignity, and comfort is paramount. All information will be confidential.

Jessica started her PhD in February this year after closely following the debates about assisted dying, including the Lecretia Seales’ case in the High Court in New Zealand.

“With the exception of people like Lecretia Seales, I found that the views of people approaching the end of life are startlingly absent from the debate about whether to legalise assisted dying in New Zealand. Whether or not there is a law change, I think these perspectives need to be heard.”

She adds that over the past twenty years studies have shown that on average 71% of New Zealanders support patients who are suffering from an incurable illness to be able to legally request assistance from doctors to end their life. On average 18% oppose and 11% are unsure.

“Assisted dying is of national interest because ACT Party MP David Seymour’s End of Life Choice bill has been drawn from the ballot.

“Seymour’s proposed legislation would allow people with a terminal illness or a grievous and irremediable medical condition the option of requesting medical aid in dying if they are assessed by two doctors to meet the criteria.

She says that assisted dying is also a highly topical and globally significant issue as increasing jurisdictions have passed aid in dying laws (California), are considering it (NSW) or in the process of voting on such legislation (Victoria). Laws have also not passed in other places (South Australia, New York) and in New Zealand twice before.

Assisted dying refers to both voluntary euthanasia and medical aid in dying. Voluntary euthanasia is when a person, who is terminally ill and competent to make decisions, requests a lethal injection to end their life, usually given by a health professional. Medical aid in dying is when a person, who is terminally ill and competent to make decisions, is provided by a doctor with the means to ingest a lethal prescription themselves.

Jessica has a Masters and Honours degree specialising in the sociology of health and illness from the School of Physical Education, Sport and Exercise Sciences at Otago. She has been working as a researcher for the past five years in the Department of General Practice and Rural Health, Dunedin School of Medicine. She is supervised by researchers from this department as well as Preventive and Social Medicine and Bioethics.

“I’m grateful to have received funding from the Hope-Selwyn Foundation for Research on Ageing, Joe and Eve Major Trust, and a University of Otago Division of Health Sciences Pro-Vice-Chancellor’s Discretionary PhD Scholarship,” she says.

More information:

This research has been reviewed and approved by the Health and Disability Human Ethics Committee. Ref: 17/NTA/90. Jessica’s supervisors are Associate Professor Chrystal Jaye, Department of General Practice and Rural Health, Dr Richard Egan, Department of Preventive and Social Medicine, Mr Tony Egan, Department of General Practice and Rural Health and Dr Janine Winters, Bioethics Centre.

Jessica Young
Department of General Practice and Rural Health
Email endoflifechoicestudy@otago.ac.nz
Tel +64 3 479 7444
Mob +64 21 280 0837 or Mob +64 27 513 0738
Email jessica.young@otago.ac.nz

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