Lecretia Seales' case for doctor-assisted death begins in Wellington

Lecretia Seales has an inoperable brain tumour and wants the option of asking a doctor to help her die.
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Lecretia Seales has an inoperable brain tumour and wants the option of asking a doctor to help her die.

What terminally ill lawyer Lecretia Seales is proposing as an option to end her life does not amount to suicide, but is the opposite of it, a court has been told.

Seales, 42, is asking a judge in the High Court at Wellington to clarify the law in a way that would allow her GP to help her to die.

Seales has a brain tumour and may have just weeks to live. She was present for only some  of the first day of what is expected to be a hearing of at least three days.

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Her lawyer, Andrew Butler, said she wanted the law to be interpreted in a way that was consistent with her human rights, so it would allow a doctor to give her the means to die, or help her to die. Her doctor has agreed to help her if it is legal.

Seales says she would want that option. One of her alternatives was to take her own life while she is still physically able.

"I really want to be able to say goodbye well," she said in written evidence to the court.

Having her doctor help her to die was not suicide, it was the opposite of it, and would allow her to live longer than if suicide was the only way to end her suffering before her pain became intolerable, Butler said.

Overseas evidence suggested terminally ill people lived longer if they knew they had the ability to get aid in dying. Some people felt relieved just having the prescription for medication that could end their lives, whether or not they ultimately chose to use it.

Her tumour had caused paralyis to the left side of Seales' body, and she could no longer read, Butler said. The latest prediction was that she might have only weeks left, and palliative care might not be able to take away her suffering.

He quoted Professor Michael Ashby, an Australian palliative care expert, who said in written evidence that such care had its limitations and it was possible that it would be unable to help Seales.

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There was a significant risk of her being bedridden and totally dependent for weeks before her death, which was likely to be hard to endure.

For someone as driven as Seales, the loss of autonomy and self-sufficiency could make the illness intolerable, Ashby said. Palliative care was likely to be of little benefit to those with psychological and emotional suffering.

A large crowd gathered at the court to hear the case. Seales was not there when the case began, but arrived about an hour later. She sat in 
a wheelchair, at the side of the court.


Her GP, whose name is suppressed, said Seales did not have depression or a low mood, and was mentally competent to make decisions. She 

seemed positive, and determined to enjoy her life as long as possible.

An oncologist's evidence was that palliative care would probably give good relief of pain, but loss of physical and mental capacity could be helped only to a minimal extent.

Former prime minister and constitutional lawyer Sir Geoffrey Palmer supporting Seales during the morning session, and sat  with her family and friends in the jury box.

Seales formerly worked for his firm Chen Palmer, for the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, and more recently was a law reformer working at the Law Commission.

She was first diagnosed with a brain tumour in 2011, aged 37. Butler described her life in terms of intelligence and passion for dancing, cooking, travelling, the law, her family and friends.

After the diagnosis she was determined to continue to travel, and live her life, including working until March.

 - Stuff

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