Lecretia Seales' case to live at peace with the way she will die

Lecretia Seales.

Lecretia Seales.

Terminally ill Wellington woman Lecretia Seales wants to live as long as possible, but not at any cost.

Time is not on her side. She has already used several weeks of a predicted lifespan of up to 18 months, but perhaps much shorter.

Faced with a brain tumour that medicine can no longer fight she has the cruel choice to suicide prematurely while she still can unaided, or face intolerable suffering.

Seales, 42, says there is a third option of having a doctor help her to die, which would likely be a later and more peaceful death than if she kills herself., Suicide might be painful, violent and perhaps even ineffective.

She is asking a judge to clarify the law around "aid in dying". A favourable answer from the High Court at Wellington will free her general practitioner to help her.

In her working life Seales is a lawyer for the Law Commission, a body that promotes the systematic review, reform and development of the law in New Zealand.

It is fitting then that this senior legal and policy adviser should want to know where she, and her doctor, stand legally.

Helping or encouraging a person to kill themselves could risk a jail term of up to 14 years.

Administering fatal medication could be seen as murder or manslaughter, risking a life imprisonment term.

In a claim to be heard from May 25, her case will be that applying the law to her circumstances, and upholding her rights, would allow a doctor to help her die, or at least have the court declare the law inconsistent with her rights.

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Giving Seales the option of "aid in dying" will allow her live as long as possible, uphold her rights not to be deprived of life and not to be subjected to torture or cruel treatment, court papers say.

Seales wants to live as long as she can up to the point of facing enduring intolerable, slow suffering and loss of dignity.

When that point comes she wants the option of having her doctor to help her to die.

The Attorney-General, who is the defendant in her case, says she also has the option of palliative care. With treatment now ineffective Seales has already begun that but says it will not address all her physical symptoms and might not manage her pain. Palliative care might not help psychological and emotional suffering and could require medication in doses and with side effects she could not tolerate.

Seales' brain tumour was first diagnosed around March 2011. She is losing the use of the left side of her body. Before the tumour can kill her she faces losing her mental faculties, memory and mobility, her behaviour and even her personality could change and she will be dependent on others for her care.

Her claim to the court says that in the meantime she is suffering from the knowledge that she lacks the ability to bring a peaceful end to her life.

Seales' lawyer Andrew Butler says the case is not an attempt to open up a wider euthanasia debate. Seales is a mentally competent adult suffering a terminal illness.

Whether her case, if successful, would set a precedent would be for others to decide.

Aid in dying

In Seales' claim the term "aid in dying" covers two possibilities:

Facilitated aid in dying - a doctor, or someone acting under a doctor's supervision making available the means by which a patient can bring about their own death where the patient clearly consents and is suffering intolerably due to a terminal illness.

Administered aid in dying - a doctor, or someone acting under a doctor's supervision, administering medication or treatment to bring about death of someone who clearly consents and is suffering intolerably from a terminal illness.

Who else is involved

The Attorney-General is defendant in Seales' case, sued in three capacities: representing the public interest; having responsibility for legal proceedings involving the Crown; and having responsibility supervising public prosecutions.

Three "interveners" have been allowed a limited role:

Care Alliance which represents groups and individuals opposed to legalised euthanasia.

Voluntary Euthanasia Society wants to change the law so adults terminally ill or with a condition that makes life unbearable could choose how and when to die with medical help.

Human Rights Commission wants to make submissions about the international and domestic human rights aspects of Seales' case.

 - Stuff

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