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.

What we know about the Mike Sabin case

There have been a number of claims and speculation about the Mike Sabin case (in Parliament the Speaker said “We know that there was a court case”).

It is a bizarre situation where we aren’t supposed to talk about something that seems to be a secret. We don’t know what we can or can’t say. But a lot of information is in the public domain.

Michael Lewis “Mike” Sabin (born 24 September 1968) is a former police officer, drug educator and New Zealand politician.

Sabin was raised and schooled in Whangarei. He and his partner, Sandra, live in Cooper’s Beach. He has three children, two of whom are grown up, and one of whom is the journalist Brook Sabin. His partner also has three children.

Sabin wrote a book called The Long Way Home after his son Darryl received a brain injury playing rugby in 2009. The book is about Darryl’s injury and the challenges the family overcame working towards his recovery. His son is now a motivational speaker

Sabin was first employed as a Seaman Officer in the Royal New Zealand Navy in the 1980s. After leaving the Navy, Sabin worked in the dairy industry before joining the Police in the 1990s. In 2006, he founded MethCon Group, a company that supplies drug education. He sold the company in October 2010. He also played a role in the establishment of drug courts in New Zealand by inviting American judge Peggy Hora to talk about how drug courts operate in the United States.

In 2008, Sabin received a Sir Peter Blake Emerging Leader Award.

Wikipedia

Sabin was first elected to Parliament as MP for Northland in November 2011. He was re-elected in September 2014. He annolunced his resignation from Parliament on Friday 20 January 2015 with a short statement:

Press Release: New Zealand National Party
Mike Sabin announces resignation as Northland MP

Northland MP, Mike Sabin, today announced he has resigned from Parliament, effective immediately.

Mr Sabin said he had decided to resign due to personal issues that were best dealt with outside Parliament.

Mr Sabin will not be making any further comment.

The Prime Minister John Key and National Party President Peter Goodfellow ‘acknowledged’ the resignation without further comment about it.

It is highly unusual that an MP resigns without giving any information about it.

Notice of resignation:

Resignations

Mike Sabin, Northland

Mr SPEAKER : Honourable members, I wish to advise the House that I have received a letter from Mike Sabin resigning his seat with effect from Friday, 30 January 2015.

Parliament Tuesday 10 February:

ANDREW LITTLE : What about the standards of the Government? What about the promise of 2008 that “The Government I lead will be a Government of good standards.”, and its chance to do something, its chance to demonstrate that National actually is a party of standards in Government? It was confronted with it at the end of last year. One of National’s MPs was under a police investigation. One of its MPs—

Mr SPEAKER : Order! I invite members throughout this debate to be very careful. We know that there was a court case, and we know that all details were suppressed. [Interruption] Order! There is Standing Order 115. Should any members think I should consider this matter differently, I invite them to use that Standing Order and write to me. At this stage no member has done so. I invite Mr Little to continue.

So “We know that there was a court case”.

We also know there was a police investigation that started at least as far back as August 2014 (NBR have claimed it goes back further than this).

NZ Herald reported on 11 February:

At least two Government ministers were told an unnamed MP was being investigated before last year’s election, but police did not tell Government ministers it was Mike Sabin until November when a media outlet started asking about an investigation into the former MP.

The Herald has learned that before the election Police Minister Anne Tolley and another minister with a related portfolio were told police were looking into an MP.

However, officials did not reveal which MP it was. Current Police Minister Michael Woodhouse was not told it was Mr Sabin until after One News started asking about Mr Sabin on November 25. That was the same day the Prime Minister’s chief of staff, Wayne Eagleson, was told and the Prime Minister was told on December 1.

All three ministers have repeatedly refused to say whether they had been briefed or what they had known. Yesterday, Mr Woodhouse refused to confirm whether he was briefed but said he was “absolutely” confident he had handled the issue appropriately.

It is understood police told ministers they withheld the name of the MP because inquiries were still at an early stage and there was concern about the impact on Mr Sabin’s career and reputation if it amounted to nothing. Ministers were eventually told his name under the “no surprises” policy because media had started asking about the case.

Police Commissioner Mike Bush has refused to say whether he briefed ministers on Mr Sabin, but said police had not “dropped the ball” under the no surprises policy. That policy requires Government departments to alert ministers to sensitive or controversial issues.

It’s hard to believe the police would inform the Minister of Police of an investigation into an MP under the ‘no surprises’ policy but withhold the identity of the MP. It is also difficult to believe the Minister would not advise the Prime Minister, nor would the Minister, the Prime Minister or his office find out what they could about the investigation.

Unless they chose to be ignorant.

Key praised Sabin after his resignation – PM Key – Mike Sabin was cabinet material:

“Up until his resignation I’ve had enormous confidence in him as an MP,” he added.

“Actually I think he has performed very strongly. He’s got a great grasp of some of the policy area. I actually saw him as someone that would be potentially a future Cabinet minister if we were in government.”

He had been aware that Mr Sabin, who had been a good, hard-working local MP, had been planning to resign one or two days before he did so, and had become aware of the issues he had referred to in about the last week of the parliamentary term last year.

“He made a very significant contribution to our caucus. He’s a loss in terms of the contribution I’ve seen him make as a politician,” he said.

Up until his resignation Key “had enormous confidence in him as an MP” after he had “become aware of the issues” two months earlier. There are indications Sabin had not been forthcoming to Key about ‘the issues’ so enormous confidence seems odd.

So what about the court case?

It can be presumed this happened after the resignation but it would have had to have happened soon after, possibly immediately after. But there appears to be an official blanket ban of information about it.

However some things can be presumed.

It would seem to have been a brief court case.

This suggests either of two things.

It could have been a very minor case that could be dealt with quickly. This seems very unlikely given the hushing up and Sabin resigning presumably because of it.

One News headlined John Key refuses to comment on Mike Sabin assault allegations nearly two weeks ago.

There have been reports since last year that police have spent weeks looking into allegations of assault levelled at Mike Sabin.

Stuff reported it as an assault inquiry on 21 December in National MP Mike Sabin in police assault inquiry

Police have been investigating an assault complaint against government MP Mike Sabin.

The investigation is related to events in Northland, but detectives working on the case are based in Waitemata, north Auckland.

Basing the case in Auckland suggests it was more than minor.

Since then Andrea Vance has been bolder than most journalists in her reporting and indicates that the media knows the story behind Mike Sabin’s resignation but can’t tell it in Five unanswered questions from the Beehive:

3. Does a politician ever really step down for family reasons?

In Russel Norman’s case: it’s complicated.

In Mike Sabin’s case it’s even more complicated.

4. Why was the usually loquacious Key acting so weird on Sabin?

Like I said, it’s complicated. When a job is a stake, natural justice is always a consideration. That is less easy to hide behind when an MP is at the centre of a police investigation. Key clearly didn’t want to be anywhere near this damaging scandal and all but threw Sabin under the bus with his taciturnity. Less than 24 hours before the resignation, Key told reporters Sabin would be at a Tuesday caucus meeting – suggesting that behind the scenes things weren’t under control in the way he would have liked.

So it would appear to be a case of assault that was serious enough to prompt Sabin to resign as an MP (and chair of the Law & Order committee). And there have been several cliams it could be well up the scale of seriousness.

Team xx  have known all along the seriousness of the offences that Sabin had been accused of, at first, last December it was just an educated guess, based on sound research and then soon enough, just prior to Christmas 2014 break, we received more information confirming our worst suspicions.

And due to it’ being over quickly suggests a guilty plea for this type of case, but one that has been kept under a cloak of secrecy.

There has been a report that someone was remanded at large to reappear in court for a disputed-facts hearing ‘next month’. That was stated in January. We don’t know who that was but this gives us an idea of process.

In general a remand at large is apparently usually granted following a guilty plea but where some of the information contained in the Police Summary of Facts is disputed by the defendant.

The facts of the Sabin case have been both widely discussed and (officially) been kept tightly under wraps.

At this stage we are left having to rely on the judgement of a judge, the police and politicians that it is ‘in the public interest’ to keep the Sabin case a secret.

Their past records, particularly on certain types of cases, doesn’t give me much confidence in their judgement. Protection of ‘prominent New Zealanders’ seems to be given a much higher priority than transparency by some.

So serious concerns remain about the Sabin case.

The Speaker’s unknown case

In Parliament today the Speaker interupted a Andrew Little’s opening speech .during the Debate on Prime Minister’s Statement.

Draft transcript – Tuesday, 10 February 2015

ANDREW LITTLE: Those are the economic issues. What about the standards of Government? What about the promise of 2008: “The Government I lead will be a Government of good standards.”, and its chance to do something; its chance to demonstrate that they actually are a party of standards in Government. They were confronted with it at the end of last year. One of their MPs is under a police investigation. One of their MPs is under a police investigation.

Mr SPEAKER: Order! I invite members throughout this debate to be very careful. We know there was a court case, and we know that all details were suppressed. [Interruption] Order! There is Standing Order 115. Should any members think I should consider this matter differently, I invite them to use that Standing Order and write to me. At this stage no member has done so. I invite Mr Little to continue.

Mr Little continued. And we are left to puzzle about an unknown case.

Video: