Interest groups want a say on Lecretia Seales assisted dying claim

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.

Terminally ill Wellington lawyer Lecretia Seales faces attempts by special interest groups to have a say on her legal plea to be allowed the option of a medically assisted death.

Seales, 42, has an inoperable brain tumour and has begun a court case in which she wants to test the law.

In the High Court at Wellington on Tuesday, her lawyer, Andrew Butler, said the case was about clarifying the criminal law, not changing it or trying to "lift a ban".

It was only about Seales, and raised quite narrow issues that would not have any application to the elderly or disabled, for instance.

Seales was not interested in having a big debate about euthanasia, he said.

Allowing other parties to "intervene" would expand the scope of the argument in circumstances in which time was very important. For Seales, justice was about getting the trial she wanted in the time available, Butler said.

"My concern is that there is a real risk here about the case ballooning out."

Seales wants to make sure her GP would not face charges under the Crimes Act if or when Seales was helped to die. The doctor's name is suppressed.

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Three parties are asking to be allowed to "intervene" in the case.

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The Care Alliance represents groups opposed to physician-assisted suicide and physician-assisted euthanasia. Its lawyer, Victoria Casey, said palliative care professionals and some groups representing the disabled were directly affected, and their views should be heard.

Seales is opposing them being allowed to take part in the case, but Casey said members of the alliance were best placed to give evidence and analysis of relevant issues.

The Voluntary Euthanasia Society and the Human Rights Commission are also seeking to intervene.

For the Human Rights Commission, Matthew Palmer, QC, said it was not a normal "adversarial" case. The orders being sought would seem to offer assisted dying in certain circumstances, and that had wide implications for society.

"If ever there was a case of widespread public importance, this is it."

The commission would offer independent submissions and would not take a position on the ultimate question in the case, he said.

Kathryn Davenport, QC, for the Voluntary Euthanasia Society, said Seales was asking for a personal decision, but the case could not be seen in isolation.

The defendant in Seales' case is the attorney-general, who is currently National MP Chris Finlayson. His lawyer, Paul Rishworth, QC, said it plainly raised issues of significant public importance, and the parties that wanted to intervene might be able to help the court.

But the Crown could gather evidence from palliative care specialists and others to cover the issues the case raised.

The full hearing is due to start on May 25. Justice David Collins said he would give his decision as soon as possible on whether the three interveners were allowed to be part of the case.

 - Stuff

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