A terminally ill lawyer describes a judge’s decision to allow three groups restricted intervention on her case for her right to die as “fair”.
Justice Collins announced his decision on Friday to allow the Care Alliance, The Voluntary Euthanasia Society of New Zealand and the Human Rights Commission to intervene on a limited basis in Lecreatia Seales’ case.
Seales, a public law specialist who worked for Kensington Swan, Chen Palmer and the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, is dying of an inoperable brain tumour, with her oncologist confirming on Friday that her chemotherapy would be not be continued as it was not effective.
She has now entered palliative care earlier than anticipated.
In March, assisted by a legal team headed by Russell McVeagh, she filed a statement of claim in Wellington’s High Court arguing that under s9 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act she had a right “not to be subjected to cruel, degrading or disproportionately severe treatment” – in this case, letting her live.
Justice Collins announced his decision to allow intervention by the three groups via written judgement.
“I am exercising my discretion to grant the applications primarily because I am satisfied that I may be assisted by the conditional participation of the interveners in reaching my decision in relation to Ms Seales’ application for declarations.”
However, the interventions will have stringent conditions “to ensure Ms Seales is not unnecessarily burdened by the participation of the interveners” and that the interveners’ participation does not cause delay.
Interveners must submit their evidence on areas identified by Justice Collins within the next two weeks, and are also restricted to written submissions with 6000 word limit. They will not be able to cross-examine witnesses, and will only be able to make oral submissions at the discretion of the judge.
In his judgement, Justice Collins acknowledged the importance of the case nationally.
“The declarations Ms Seales seeks are cast very precisely and are not intended to have a wide application. Nevertheless, the issue of whether or not a person in Ms Seales’ circumstances can be assisted to end her life, or have her health professional deliberately hasten her death raises significant legal and ethical issues that are of intense public importance.”
Seales responded to Justice Collins in a written statement on Friday, saying that she was concerned that the applicants were successful, but pleased with the restrictions.
“My time is limited, and additional legal counsel and evidence that is not relevant to my circumstances risk lengthening my hearing and the risk that I will not be alive to receive a judgment. I believe that the applicants have a right to share their points of view, but I would prefer they did not do so as part of my hearing.
“Nevertheless, I believe Justice Collins’ judgment is a fair one.”
She intended to encourage a conversation about euthanasia and assisted death within New Zealand, “however the courtroom is not the place for that wider debate”.
“This case is about my circumstances and my circumstances only.
“The debate should be held across the road from the High Court, at the House of Parliament in the debating chamber, by our politicians, where all affected parties can be represented and have their views heard.”
She would welcome a parliamentary review of the relevant sections of the Crimes Act or the Bill of Rights, which would enable all interested parties, including the interveners, to be heard as part of the legislative process.
The trial date remains set for the week of May 25.