Lecretia Seales' death eerily similar to South African lawyer's

Professor Sean Davison was convicted of helping his terminally ill mother to die and has founded Dignity in South Africa ...
Martin Van Beynen

Professor Sean Davison was convicted of helping his terminally ill mother to die and has founded Dignity in South Africa where he has lived for many years.

Wellington lawyer Lecretia Seales' death the day the decision on her case was delivered mirrors the case of a South African lawyer who died the day of his landmark victory.

As Seales, 42, was preparing her own case to have the option of "aid in dying", South African Robin Stransham -Ford, 65, was on the same path.

Stransham -Ford died apparently naturally on April 30, the same day the High Court at Pretoria ruled in his favour.

The family of Wellington lawyer Lecretia Seales' will not appeal the decision to deny her the right to die at the time ...
SUPPLIED

The family of Wellington lawyer Lecretia Seales' will not appeal the decision to deny her the right to die at the time of her choosing with help from a her doctor.

Seales died early on Friday, about eight hours after a judge's decision was given confidentially to parties on Thursday.

It was not clear whether Stransham-Ford was aware of the outcome before he died, but Seales learned of hers on Tuesday night, after the judge released part of it confidentially to the parties due to her rapidly deteriorating condition.

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Stransham-Ford had the support of Professor Sean Davison, a New Zealander living in South Africa.

Davison had returned to Dunedin in 2006 to be with his dying mother. He was eventually convicted of procuring and inciting her attempted suicide and served a term of home detention.

He founded the group DignitySA and campaigns for legalised euthanasia in South Africa.

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Before Seales died Davison said he was following her case very closely.

Her and Stransham -Ford's claims were very similar, both with the aim of obtaining relief if they were suffering unbearably, Davison said.

"South Africa has one of the most liberal constitutions in the world, hastily drafted in the final months of the apartheid government. It has allowed our society to rapidly embrace issues that we have previously been uncomfortable to deal with such as sexuality, gay rights, AIDS, and abortion," Davison said.

"In the case of assisted dying, Parliament will be obliged to approve a bill on a proposed legal change, so that the laws that criminalise this compassionate act are consistent with the court's recognition of a person's human rights."

New Zealand's Bill of Rights was more conservative, he said.

He would continue to follow Seales' case and the impact of each country dealing with this issue had a ripple effect on other countries, he said.

Stransham -Ford was qualified as an accountant, tax specialist, and a lawyer, who had lived and worked internationally. He was dying from cancer that had spread through his body.

He wanted the court to declare that a doctor who provided or administered a lethal agent would not face criminal, civil, or disciplinary action.

In court papers he called himself, "the sufferer" and the doctor, "the Samaritan".

Stransham -Ford said palliative care did not satisfy his need and right to die in dignity while fully aware of the moment of his death. He was already in extreme pain when his case went to court.

He said he was not afraid of dying but he was afraid of dying while suffering.

Judge Hans Fabricius said assisted suicide or active voluntary euthanasia was illegal under the current law of South Africa.

But he found that those laws were an unjustified limitation on Stransham -Ford's right to have his dignity respected and protected, his right to freedom and security of the person which included the right not to be treated or punished in a cruel, inhuman or degrading way, and the right to bodily and psychological integrity, which included the right to security in and control over his body.

The judge said his decision was fact dependant and not precedent for an uncontrolled "free for all".

Fabricius drew on the reasoning of a Canadian Supreme Court judgment given in February.

The Canadian court found the criminal ban on assisting another person to end their own life was void as far as it would deprive a competent adult of that assistance if they clearly consented to it and had a grievous and irremediable medical condition that caused enduring and intolerable suffering.

In South Africa Judge Fabricius dealt with the "slippery slope" argument from opponents of doctor-assisted death by saying, "in the absence of legislation, which is the Government's prerogative, any other Court will scrupulously scrutinise the facts before it, and will determine on a case-by-case basis, whether any safeguards against abuse are sufficient."

"... I do not think it was necessary for [Stransham-Ford] to say who the doctor would be, when he would die, and what lethal agent he would acquire. That is private and a facet of his own dignity."

The state parties are to appeal the result to the Supreme Court of Appeal in Bloemfontein.

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