Decision due on lawyer’s right to die

by Hannah Norton24 Apr 2015
A judge is expected to release his reserved decision today about whether three groups could intervene in the case of Wellington lawyer Lecretia Seales, who is fighting for her right to die.

The 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.

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.

On Tuesday, Justice Collins heard arguments from the Care Alliance, the Voluntary Euthanasia Society and the Human Rights Commission, who wanted to be interveners in the case.

He reserved his decision and hoped to release it by today, given the time-critical nature of the case. Seales’ life expectancy is as little as two months.

Seales’ husband Matt said in a blog post this week that he hoped Justice Collins would agree to keep the scope of the case to his wife’s plea, and leave the wider societal debate on assisted dying to be addressed by politicians.

“Their silence is starting to appear cowardly,” he said.

“Their inaction is precisely why my wife has been forced to spend her precious remaining days pursuing this case through the courts. It’s time for politicians to do their job, so that people like Lecretia don’t have to take these sorts of actions.”

Seales’ claim argues that if she is not able to lawfully access the assistance of a physician to help her die, should she chose to do so, then she will face a “cruel choice between taking her own life through potentially violent, painful and ineffective means, or suffering intolerably from a potentially slow, painful and undignified death.”

The crux of the argument will be that statutory prohibitions against assisting a person to die, or hastening their death, even with their consent, breach fundamental human rights to liberty and personal autonomy, 

“I am the one who has been inflicted with this disease, no one else,” she said in a statement last month.

“It is my life that has been cut short. So who else but me should have the authority to decide if and when the disease and its effects are so intolerable that I would prefer to die?”

The relief Seales is seeking from the court would only apply to her own circumstances based on the medical evidence that she has a “grievous and irremediable illness that causes enduring suffering that is intolerable to her in the circumstances of her condition.”

Seales and her husband have established a Facebook page, Lecretia’s Choice to help promote an informed debate about the legal and policy issues involved.