Older people holding hands.

Concerns raised about number of patients denied assisted dying

Despite fears our new euthanasia legislation might have been too loose, it now seems the measures put in place to guard against that may have made it too strict.

Only 143 people who died from November to March used the End of Life Choice Act. 

An early review has found no breaches but there have been a few complaints and one serious enough to warrant further investigation.

But a lot of people who have applied for euthanasia are being turned down and some are dying before their application process is complete.

President of the End of Life Choice Society Ann David told Tova O'Brien she agrees our end-of-life rules are "very, very restrictive".

"It is much more open in Australia, where most of the states have a specific clause that would allow people with neurodegenerative diseases to apply when they are 12 months away from potentially dying," David told O'Brien.

"There's a reason for that because with the neurodegenerative diseases it's almost impossible to pinpoint to six months because of the way they progress. Cancer is much easier to pinpoint to six months or less."

The End of Life Choice Society President says some patients leave it too late to apply.

"There is a category of people who suffer extremely and for a very, very long time who are not actually caught up in this legislation, that have to be declined and forced to suffer longer and longer."

O'Brien asked David why so many people are being turned down.

"We're not sure, the service is quite new," David said.

"It could be that the doctors may be overinterpreting this 'unbearable suffering' that the patient's got to be literally screaming with pain. 

"Suffering comes in many dimensions. Physical pain is an extremely important part of that, but it's not the only kind of suffering that a person can experience.

"The progressive loss of function and becoming less and less capable of using one's own physical faculties is in itself a mental, emotional and often actually an existential form of suffering and people all have different thresholds as well."

Listen to the full interview between Ann David and Tova above.

You can also download the full interview on the Tova podcast, and listen on the go. Check it out on the rova app or wherever you get your podcasts.