Lecretia Seales assisted dying case versus pressure group inteference

Lecretia Seales has a brain tumour and has taken her case to court to clarify whether her doctor can assist her death so she can avoid extended suffering. Stuff reports:

Terminally ill Wellington lawyer Lecretia Seales…, 42, has an inoperable brain tumour and has begun a court case in which she wants to test the law.

In the High Court at Wellington on Tuesday, her lawyer, Andrew Butler, said the case was about clarifying the criminal law, not changing it or trying to “lift a ban”.

It was only about Seales, and raised quite narrow issues that would not have any application to the elderly or disabled, for instance.

Seales was not interested in having a big debate about euthanasia, he said.

Seales wants to make sure her GP would not face charges under the Crimes Act if or when Seales was helped to die. The doctor’s name is suppressed.

Sounds sad, and sounds like a sensible test for the law.

It’s fairly well known that doctors and others able to administer drugs already ease peoples’ deaths. I’ve seen this happen with someone whose death I was closely associated with.

So it makes sense to clarify the law around this. Otherwise some people are lucky enough to get help to ease suffering, while others don’t have the choice.

And because it happens in a grey area of the law and of medical ethics it is easier for misuse or mistakes to happen.

If the law was clarified people who are suffering and dying wouldn’t have to deal with ambiguity and secrecy. It would also make it easier for families – the example I was associated with was bloody difficult to deal with until I understood what was happening.

But ‘special interest groups’ are trying to interfere with Seales’ case.

Seales faces attempts by special interest groups to have a say on her legal plea to be allowed the option of a medically assisted death.

Three parties are asking to be allowed to “intervene” in the case.

For the Human Rights Commission, Matthew Palmer, QC, said it was not a normal “adversarial” case. The orders being sought would seem to offer assisted dying in certain circumstances, and that had wide implications for society.

“If ever there was a case of widespread public importance, this is it.”

The commission would offer independent submissions and would not take a position on the ultimate question in the case, he said.

At least they are trying to be balanced and neutral on the emotional aspects.

The defendant in Seales’ case is the attorney-general, who is currently National MP Chris Finlayson. His lawyer, Paul Rishworth, QC, said it plainly raised issues of significant public importance, and the parties that wanted to intervene might be able to help the court.

But the Crown could gather evidence from palliative care specialists and others to cover the issues the case raised.

That’s up to the crown, but other groups seem intent on using Seales’ case to push their own.

The Care Alliance represents groups opposed to physician-assisted suicide and physician-assisted euthanasia. Its lawyer, Victoria Casey, said palliative care professionals and some groups representing the disabled were directly affected, and their views should be heard.

Seales is opposing them being allowed to take part in the case, but Casey said members of the alliance were best placed to give evidence and analysis of relevant issues.

The Voluntary Euthanasia Society is also seeking to intervene.

Kathryn Davenport, QC, for the Voluntary Euthanasia Society, said Seales was asking for a personal decision, but the case could not be seen in isolation.

If Seales was happy for this to happen then fair enough. But it sounds like she doesn’t want any interference.

Both sides of the euthanasia debate want to hijack Seales’ case to promote their own interests. It’s not their case. They can take their own legal action if they want to.

Seales’ case could easily be seen in isolation. Sure it would affect other cases, that’s how our legal system works.

3 News reported:

Care Alliance says if Ms Seales gets her wish it would set a dangerous precedent and could be applied to anyone with a terminal illness.

That sounds like scaremongering. It could be applied to anyone, whether ill or not. But that’s a stupid exaggeration.

The whole point of Seale’s case is she is requesting the option of an assisted death.She is prepared to test it in court.

The courts are never going to start ‘applying law’ to people who don’t want it applied to them.

Obviously time is important for Seales

Justice David Collins said he would give his decision as soon as possible on whether the three interveners were allowed to be part of the case. The full hearing is due to start on May 25.

3 News: in a blog post, Ms Seales’ husband Matt said: “If Lecretia were to commit suicide, she would need to do it alone, as anyone else present would risk a criminal conviction. The act would be extremely traumatic for her and her family. It’s not an option.”

Sadly now she has publicised her situation the risk of scrutiny and criminal conviction is much greater.

The court should do what it can to make a fair legal ruling. Special interest groups should stop pushing their own interests.

Seales is making brave moves, by openly her facing options as she dies, and by doing something that attracts publicity.

The law may or may not benefit her. But the special interest groups should back off unless their input is asked for.

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5 Comments

  1. Brown

     /  22nd April 2015

    If she thinks she can get a one off exemption for her GP via the legal system she’s deluded. The special interest groups are always going to be on board (like rats perhaps) for an emotional issue like this.

    I remain of a view that people die from palliative care all the time and that problems seem to arise when people have to tell someone about it. The current approach may be the lesser evil (just a turn of phrase – not saying its evil per se).

    Reply
    • Alan Wilkinson

       /  22nd April 2015

      I presume you are implying that there is a regime of “see no evil” euthanasia being practised which the anti-euthanasia lobby tolerates so long as there is no publicity.

      Reply
  2. This is a bit like cannabis laws.. a majority seem to support law reform, but a small group of anti-lobbyists have the Govt. ear & nothing changes. Meanwhile many continue to suffer the unnecassary injustice !
    We don’t watch our pets suffer, so why do we demand it of our people ?

    Give this woman some peace.

    Reply
  3. kittycatkin

     /  22nd April 2015

    It’s no secret that in some cases antibiotics are not given in cases of pneumonia; it happened with a dear friend, a clever, lovely. kind, dignified man who had early Alzheimers. It’s easy to say that it’s what they’d want, but it was in this case.

    I find this an agonising debate-the thought of its becoming INvoluntary is too awful. I mean active euthanasia rather than passive.

    The Oregon system seems to be about as good a solution as one is likely to have. The person goes to the doctor-asks for the lethat overdose-signs this and that-comes back in a fortnight if they’re still of the same mind. They are given a dose to take away, and they have to take it themselves.If they can’t, too bad, nobody else can give it to them (but I bet that in a few cases this happens) I believe that actually many people don’t need it in the end, but the knowledge that that little bottle is there is hugely comforting.

    Reply
  4. Brown

     /  22nd April 2015

    Or maybe its threatening when you have to do it yourself and can’t rely on someone else doing it and being “to blame” for it? I think most people go to their death not quite sure what they will see so are hesitant to bring it about unless really necessary.

    Reply

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