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Research Results

62.9% support end of life choice

15 Sep 12

62.9% support end of life choice
Fairfax Stuff covers the HorizonPoll and most recent court ruling

A HorizonPoll of 2,969 adult New Zealanders finds 62.9% support proposed end of life choice law changes.


A private member’s bill may come before the New Zealand Parliament in 2012 which would aim to give all New Zealand citizens or permanent residents aged 18 years or over the ability to receive medical assistance to end their life in specified circumstances.


Horizon Research conducted this End of Life Choices Survey of 2,969 adult New Zealanders between July 5 and 20, 2012, based on provisions likely to be in the bill, to provide the most comprehensive guide to MPs and others on the public’s views on the law changes actually being proposed.


The full report on the research can be downloaded here.


Principal findings include:


  • 62.9% support entitling all mentally competent adults in New Zealand to receive medical assistance in ending their life if they are suffering from a terminal illness or an irreversible physical or mental medical condition that in their view renders their life unbearable.
  • 12.3% oppose this, while
  • 15.8% are neutral and
  • 9% are not sure.

The survey indicates five times more adults will support than oppose entitling people aged 18+ to apply for medical assistance to end their lives in certain circumstances.


The number in support matches findings of an August Digi-Poll of 750 respondents for the New Zealand Herald (63.2%).


Horizon gave respondents a neutral option. Comparing the Horizon and Herald results indicates opposition to the measure is softer than that found by the Herald poll, which did not include a neutral option.


Party supporters behind pro-bill MPs

MPs who vote for End of Life Choice law, as surveyed by Horizon, will have majority support among those who voted for their parties at the 2011 general election.


There is majority support among voters for all main parties at the 2011 general

election for entitling all mentally competent adults in New Zealand to receive medical assistance in ending their life under certain circumstances.


While 62.9% support entitling adults to medical assistance to end their life, this support is higher among voters for the main political parties:

  • National 70%
  • Labour 67.7%
  • Green 73.3%
  • Maori Party 66.7%
  • New Zealand First 67.7%
  • United Future 77.8%
  • Mana Party 63.2%.

MPs supporting the bill will have the backing of about 1.5 million of the about 2.25 million who cast votes in 2011 for parties currently in the Parliament.


Support demographics

Men and women support and oppose entitlement to medical assistance to end life in almost equal numbers.


By age, the highest support (71.6%) comes from those aged 45-54 years and 55-64 years (65.3%). While there is majority support across the older age groups, numbers who are neutral or unsure rise with age, indicating measures are needed to provide assurance through the procedures which would apply to any end of life medical assistance, who is consulted, who provides the assistance and the methods by which death is assisted.


There is majority support across all main ethnic groups.


Need for strict controls

The need for strict controls, like those measured in the survey, is demonstrated by support for them exceeding support for end of life choice overall.


For example, while medically assisted death achieves 62.9% support overall


  • 71.6% support two medical practitioners certifying that the person applying for this entitlement is mentally competent, and
  • 76.1% support two medical practitioners certifying the person seeking medical assistance to die is terminally ill or suffering from an unbearable, irreversible mental or physical condition, and
  • 79% want two medical practitioners to certify the person seeking a medically assisted death has not been unduly pressured.


End of Life Directives

Support for adults being able to at any time write, sign and register an End of Life Directive, to become effective if they become terminally ill or suffer an unbearable, irreversible mental or physical condition in the future, is 67%.


Opposition to directives is at 13.8% only.


Again, controls are strongly supported in order to have directives signed by adults who are certified to be mentally competent by a medical practitioner and for both a medical practitioner and solicitor certifying the applicant has been advised of the possible consequences of making a directive.


82.9% would support allowing the person making a directive to cancel it at any time. A majority (57%) support a proposal to have directives renewed every five years.


Verbatim comments made by respondents suggest views of those opposing the proposals, as surveyed, will be strongly held, though they will not reflect the views of the majority of the adult population.


Some in the medical profession say they are “torn” between their duty to preserve life and the suffering they see some enduring.


Support for End of Life Choices relies on strong safeguards.


Assisting at death

A majority disappears when it comes to assisting a friend or family member, with entitlement to medical assistance, to end their life.


  • 60.2% would prefer death is assisted with oral medication administered by a doctor (8.3% oppose)
  • 51.9% support administration using a gastric tube where one is in place (9.3% oppose)
  • 46.5% support allowing a medical practitioner to delegate end of life medical procedures to another person explicitly requested by the person with approval to end their life

Nearly 4 out of 10 adults would definitely or most likely help a close friend or relative end their life, while 32.4% would be unlikely to or would definitely not and 17.7% are unsure. In verbatim comments, many say that providing assistance would be personally difficult for them.



The survey covered 2,969 respondents. Results have been weighted by age, gender, personal income, ethnicity, region and party vote 2011 to provide a representative sample of the New Zealand adult (18+) population. The maximum margin of error at a 95% confidence level is +/- 1.8%.


Horizon Research Limited alone prepared the questionnaire, which is reproduced in full with results in the appendix to this report. Rights to use and publish results of this survey were subsequently acquired by the Voluntary Euthanasia Society of New Zealand.


Television One news coverage of the survey and issue is here.


MP Maryan Street's statement about the poll and her private members bill is here.


A Key Research Sunday Herald December 2012 poll has found more than 60 per cent believed terminally ill people should be able to chose when to end their life.