Lobby groups given limited role in Lecretia Seales assisted dying test case

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

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

A terminally ill Wellington lawyer trying to clarify the law on assisted dying, will have interest groups joining her case on "stringent conditions".

Lecretia Seales, 42, was first diagnosed with a brain tumour in March 2011. It is increasingly debilitating but she is expected to live for between three and 18 months.

She is taking a case, with the Attorney-General named as defendant, asking the High Court at Wellington to clarify whether a doctor would be committing a crime if they helped her to die. Her general practitioner's name is suppressed.

Seales' lawyer, Andrew Butler, said the case was not about euthanasia generally. Its terms were confined to Seales, a terminally ill and mentally competent adult.

The case is due to be heard starting May 25 and the parties have been given a tight timetable to prepare for it.

Butler said Seales did not want the scope of the case, or the time it will take, increased.

But the Care Alliance, which is opposed to physician-assisted death, the Voluntary Euthanasia Society and the Human Rights Commission have all asked to be allowed to take part.

In a decision issued on Friday Justice David Collins granted their applications to "intervene" but he said that to ensure Seales was not unnecessarily burdened, he would set stringent conditions on their taking part.

He said he granted their applications because he may be assisted in reaching his decision. He needed to try to make a decision while Seales was still competent to make informed decisions about her care.

The judge said Seales lived a full, independent life and was concerned about the effect of a slow and unpleasant death on her husband and family.

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She wants the option of dying "by way of a facilitated aid in dying or administered aid in dying" when her illness causes her intolerable suffering.

The judge said Seales' general practitioner respects her wishes but would not help her unless the court made the declarations that Seales now seeks.

She wants a declaration that it would not be an offence to either help her take her own life or do an act that ends her life. Alternatively she wants a declaration that the Crimes Act sections on assisting suicide or blameworthy killing were not consistent with her right not to be subject to torture or cruel treatment, and not to be deprived of life except on grounds established by law.

The declarations she wanted were not intended to have wide application but raised issues of intense public importance, Collins said.

Care Alliance is allowed to produce evidence of the impact of the proposed declarations on those with mental illness, including depression and on youth suicide in particular.

Voluntary Euthanasia is allowed to produce evidence about national and international developments on statistics, medical data, legal changes and challenges relating to choice at the time of death.

The Human Rights Commission is going to make legal submissions only on international and domestic human rights aspects of the case.

The three interveners have to file submissions in writing and might not necessarily get to speak at the hearing. They cannot seek costs against any party but might be liable for costs themselves, the judge said.

 - Stuff

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