Seales' assisted dying case at top of slippery slope, opponents say

Lecretia Seales is an acclaimed cook and was treated to chef Sam Pope making a five-course meal for her at home.
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Lecretia Seales is an acclaimed cook and was treated to chef Sam Pope making a five-course meal for her at home.

Opponents of Lecretia Seales' court case to clarify the law on doctor-assisted death say it would be the start of a slippery slope if she were to succeed.

The terminally ill Wellington lawyer's application begins in the High Court at Wellington on Monday.

Treatment of her brain tumour has ended and she is having palliative care, but believes that might not continue to meet her needs. She wants the option of having her doctor help her to die if her suffering is intolerable.

That option would likely give her a longer, more peaceful life than if her only way to end suffering was to take her own life while still able to do so unaided, her claim says.

Seales, 42, says the court case is about her and her circumstances only.

The attorney-general, who is the defendant in the case, disagrees and so does an interest group, Care Alliance, which has been allowed a limited say in Seales' case.

Solicitor-General Mike Heron, QC, representing the attorney-general, said if Seales' claim were accepted, it would have implications well beyond her case and would apply to all who have a terminal illness and think their suffering is intolerable.

"The attorney-general's position is that the conventional understanding of the Crimes Act – which precludes physician-assisted dying – must continue to apply unless and until it is altered by Parliament."

Care Alliance says that, if Seales is successful, overseas experience suggests it would be the start of a slippery slope that would put vulnerable lives at risk.

It might start as an expression of compassion for one or a few, but then numbers would increase and decisions would begin to be made for people without their consent, such as people in comas or with dementia, opponents say.

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Alliance spokesman Matthew Jansen said that,  as a compassionate society, we should be doing more to make palliative care available.

"Let's take the harder but better road to invest in palliative care."

Seales should have the best care and she and her family deserved compassion, but having a doctor help her to die, or kill her, should not be an option, Jansen said.

He said the alliance had gained members as a result of Seales' case. Its members were individuals, as well as groups including Christian Medical Fellowship, Euthanasia-Free NZ, Family First, Palliative Care Nurses, and The Salvation Army.

Members had many different perspectives and the only thing on which they came together was that euthanasia was dangerous and unnecessary, Jansen said.

"Facilitated aid in dying, it's a euphemism, it's meant to make something sound better than it really is.

"We are talking about a doctor delivering a fatal medication deliberately."

The attorney-general is defendant to represent the public interest, having responsibility for legal proceedings involving the Crown, and supervising public prosecutions.

The Voluntary Euthanasia Society and the Human Rights Commission have been given permission to take a limited role in the case, similar to that of Care Alliance.

 - Stuff

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