Right-to-die debate for Parliament

by Hannah Norton08 Jun 2015
Wellington public law specialist Lecretia Seales was unsuccessful in her bid to die on her own terms.

The 42-year-old lawyer, who worked for Chen Palmer and the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, died at 12.35am on Friday, only hours only after receiving the interim judgement of the Seales v Attorney General case.

Her legal team, led by top-tier firm Russell McVeagh, had sought a declaration Wellington’s High Court that her doctor would not risk prosecution of murder or manslaughter under s 160(2)(a) and (3) of the Crimes Act if she “administered aid in dying” to Seales, or prosecution for assisting her to commit suicide, which is prohibited by s 179(b) of the Act.

Justice Collins released his reserved judgement at 3pm on the same day.

“I cannot declare that Ms Seales’ doctor would be acting lawfully if she administered a fatal drug to Ms Seales within the terms sought. Nor can I declare that it would be lawful for Ms Seales’ doctor to provide her with a fatal drug knowing that Ms Seales intended to use that drug to end her own life and did so,” Collins said in his judgement.

"Although Ms Seales has not obtained the outcomes she sought, she has selflessly provided a forum to clarify important aspects of New Zealand law.

"The complex legal, philosophical, moral and clinical issues raised by Ms Seales' proceedings can only be addressed by Parliament passing legislation to amend the effect of the Crimes Act."

Seales’ husband Matt Vickers said at a press conference on Friday that the pair had been “dismayed” at the judgement, which the pair had received on Tuesday night before her death.

“In some ways, I am relieved that Lecretia was unconscious and unresponsive when we received it, so she didn’t have to hear the news.

“Justice Collins found in our favour in relation to the evidence before him, but his interpretation of the purpose of the law meant he could not find aid in dying was available to Lecretia nor could he find that not having access to aid in dying was inconsistent with the Bill of Rights.”

Justice Collins was clear that it is for Parliament to address a change in the law, Vickers said.

“Through Lecretia’s efforts we now know the law. So Parliament now knows what has to change.

“This debate needs to happen now. Prime Minister, I urge you to give the public what they want and start the debate. I urge you to follow my wife’s example and to be a courageous leader. I urge you to lead on this issue. It is long overdue. Now is the time. Let us give Lecretia her legacy.”