Voluntary Euthanasia believes a law change is coming after Lecretia Seales judgment
The time to have a conversation about euthanasia is now, and the law needs to change, a pro-choice group says.
Lecretia Seales, a Wellington lawyer who died of a brain tumour early on Friday, had asked the High Court to clarify the law so that she had the option of having a doctor's help to die if her suffering became intolerable.
However, Justice David Collins ruled that only Parliament could change the law to reflect her wishes, and that the Seales' doctor would have been at risk of being prosecuted for either murder or manslaughter if she administered a fatal drug with intent to kill.
The Voluntary Euthanasia Society of New Zealand said the result of the case was disappointing, but it was confident a law change would happen soon.
"[Seales] has demonstrated that the time has come for real debate about this issue," president Jack Havill, a retired intensive care medicine specialist, said.
He cited a recent Research New Zealand poll that found 74 per cent of respondents believed people suffering an incurable disease should be able to end their lives in the knowledge that no-one risked going to prison for helping them.
There was a clear worldwide trend towards approving end-of-life choice, and judges in Canada and South Africa had ruled this year that denying people suffering painful and terminal illnesses the right to die with dignity breached their human rights, he said.
The Human Rights Commission legal manager Janet Anderson-Bidois said Seales was a brave woman who ignited an important public discussion about assisted death.
"Irrespective of individual viewpoints on assisted dying, it is important that public debate about these matters take place in a robust and informed way. Key human rights concepts such as dignity, personal autonomy and the right to life must be carefully considered if any legislative change is to be contemplated."
The Care Alliance, which was allowed to be heard in court opposing Seales' case, said the timing of the judgment was poignant and the first thoughts of everybody were with Seales' family and friends, and in particular her husband.
The judge had properly decided that the constitutional role of the court had been to uphold the law, not to change it, Alliance spokesman Matthew Jansen said.
The constitutional context in New Zealand was very different to that in Canada and South Africa, he said.
Right to Life said the judgment showed the laws prohibiting assisted suicide were there to protect the vulnerable. "We change them at our peril," spokesman Ken Orr said.
Euthanasia-Free NZ also believed a law change was not needed.
"Essentially, voluntary euthanasia and assisted-suicide legislation makes it legal for one person to be involved in deliberately causing the death of someone else," executive officer Renee Joubert said.
"As a society we need to do everything possible to relieve people's suffering ... however, this legislation is not the solution."