Lawyer's fight for right to die taken to High Court

by Hannah Norton23 Mar 2015
Wellington lawyer Lecretia Seales is dying of an inoperable brain tumour.

The public law specialist – who worked for Chen Palmer and the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet – was first diagnosed in 2011, at the age of 37.

Now 41, Seales wants the right to die at the time of her choosing.

On Friday, she took the unprecedented step of filing 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.

The 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.”

A legal team headed by Russell McVeagh will argue 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.

Seales has been kept alive for several years through surgery and drugs, but the tumour has advanced.

While she fully supports the need for legal protections for the vulnerable, ensuring they are not induced to take their lives, she does not believe such protections should be so draconian as to prevent her - and others in her situation - from exercising their fundamental human rights.

“I am the one who has been inflicted with this disease, no one else. 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?

 “I am not saying that I will necessarily choose to exercise this right, and nor for one moment am I suggesting others in my position should be asked to make such a choice."

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’ legal team will be looking to expedite the case in view of her declining health.

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.