I received an email from someone wanting to undergo an assisted death.
I replied with general advice that was available online on the New Zealand government’s assisted dying website.
The person replied outlining their situation. They had been approved for an assisted death by the national service. Their residential care facility which had been home for the past four months would not allow assisted dying to occur on its premises. Their local hospice had made it clear that they would not be an option.
I explained that we had initially planned to offer our venue for people in our catchment area, but would consider cases from elsewhere. I promised to consult my team, and we agreed that we would be able to provide a venue. An onsite meeting and tour of our facilities was arranged, scheduled for a time when the patient’s family would be available. This would be the first time that we would meet a patient accessing this service, which made us feel nervous.
In the meantime we prepared our venue. A comfortable non-hospital bed was moved in, with electronic back and foot raising functions that could be controlled with a keypad. The living room area was tidied up, as was the bathroom, kitchen and self-contained courtyard area. There would be wheelchair access and we would be able to to accommodate the number of guests the patient requested.
The patient and their family arrived on a Friday afternoon and were welcomed by myself, our general manager, and one of our nurses. Our two groups introduced each other and then we spent the next 90 minutes getting to know each other, over a frank, honest conversation. To me it felt like I was talking to any palliative care/hospice patient, and that I could be my usual self.
We heard about how things had been since the patient had become unwell, that things had taken a turn for the worse. That they felt like a prisoner in their malfunctioning body. They felt their quality of life was poor. They were suffering from emotional torment that could not be relieved. Tears were shed, and laughter shared. Despite all of the accumulated losses, the patient had not lost their sense of humour.
The visit was concluded with a tour of our facility and our gardens. The patient and family expressed their appreciation that we could host them in their time of need. My staff and I were left with the strong feeling that we were doing the right thing.
We said, “see you later,” knowing the next time we would meet that the family would be coming in for a celebration of life. This would then be followed by the patient’s doctor arriving to help them with their final goodbye.