Lecretia Seales: Wait for decision begins

Lawyer Lecretia Seales has turned to the court to affirm her rights.
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Lawyer Lecretia Seales has turned to the court to affirm her rights.

A judge has reserved his decision on whether terminally ill Wellington lawyer Lecretia Seales gets the end she wants to her life.

Seales returned to court for the final session of the third day of her court case, in which she seeks to end her life peacefully with the help of her general practitioner.

Justice David Collins said he would give his decision as soon as possible in writing.

He thanked Seales for bringing the case to the court. It was extremely important to her, but it was also important to the way the law and medicine were conducted in New Zealand, he said.

Seales does not want to be dependent on the care of others in her final days, to suffer intolerably or be sedated to the extent that she is not conscious of her loved ones.

The Crown says her wishes are understandable, but the law as it stands does not breach her human rights. 

The attorney-general is opposing Seales' claim in the High Court at Wellington to clarify the law on having a doctor's help to die. 

If she cannot have that help, she says her options are the prospect of intolerable suffering – an end dependent on the care of others and perhaps sedated with painkillers so she is not aware of her family and loved ones – or a premature death from suicide while she is still able to do so without help.

A Crown lawyer, Paul Rishworth, QC, said Seales had the option of palliative care, and the evidence was that would deal effectively with her pain but might mean being sedated.

Her concern to control how and when she died was "entirely understandable", Rishworth said.

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But those concerns were not the same as being subjected to "cruel, degrading and disproportionately severe treatment", in the words of the Bill of Rights, he said.

The Crown says Seales does not have the freedom to choose the time and method of her death.

Seales, 42, wants declarations that the Crimes Act is inconsistent with her right to life, and that she should not to be subject to cruel or degrading treatment.

She has not been in court since the first day of the hearing on Monday, but returned to court on Wednesday afternoon for the final session of the hearing. Her husband Matt Vickers has been present throughout and her father, Larry, is also in court. The public gallery is almost full.

Justice David Collins has said he will work through Queen's Birthday weekend to deliver a decision as soon as possible.

The brain tumour first diagnosed in 2011 is expected to kill Seales within weeks, or at most a few months. Her eyesight is failing and she uses a wheelchair. She has headaches, "shooting" pain, and difficulty swallowing.

In written evidence to the court, she has said she wants to say goodbye well. She does not want to be dependent on others for her care, to lose her dignity, change the essential independent nature of her character, or face intolerable suffering.

Her general practitioner has agreed to help her die in a way not detailed, if it is legal for her to do so. That is why Seales has asked the court to clarify the law.

The  Crown says what Seales wants is really to change the law, not clarify it.

The Bill of Rights gives her the right not to be deprived of life, and not to be subject to torture or cruel, degrading or disproportionately severe treatment or punishment. Her lawyers have argued that the Crimes Act sections on assisting suicide and killing can be interpreted in a way consistent with her rights.

Alternatively, she wants a declaration that the Crimes Act is inconsistent with her rights.

Rishworth said there could not be a serious argument for an alternative interpretation of the relevant Crimes Act sections.

Her claim that her right to life was infringed was based on an argument that, if assisted suicide and euthanasia were not available, it would force her to take her own life earlier, he said.

Her illness was depriving her of life, and there was no treatment by the state that could be labelled as cruel, degrading or disproportionately severe.

 

If Seales got her wish for having a doctor help her to die, there would be people who would want that same service to relieve the burden they felt they put on others, or to reduce the cost of their care so they could leave an inheritance for others, he said.

 - Stuff

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