3 Mar 2015

Fighting for the Right to Die

From Nine To Noon, 9:08 am on 3 March 2015

Lecretia Seales is dying of a brain tumour, and is lobbying the government to reform the laws on assisted dying.

The 41-year-old Wellington senior public lawyer was diagnosed with cancer in 2011 and is having palliative chemotherapy.

She believes it is a fundamental human right that she should be able to say goodbye to her husband and family at a time of her choosing and while she remains fully conscious.

Wellington Lawyer, Lecretia Seales, who is dying of a brain tumour.

Lecretia Seales Photo: SUPPLIED

If I had this right, I wouldn’t be going out tomorrow and exercising it, but it would be comforting to know I had that right.

Her husband, Matt, supports her, as do many New Zealanders, according to a Horizon poll in 2012.  Respondents were asked if they supported a law change to allow mentally competent adults to receive medical assistance to die if they have a terminal illness or an irreversible physical or mental condition that renders their life unbearable.

Sixty-three percent of respondents were in favour. 65 percent said they knew or had known someone in that position. 12 percent were opposed to law reform, with 25 percent neutral or unsure.

Former Labour MP Maryan Street had been trying to change the law with her End of Life Choice Bill, but the bill she introduced was withdrawn from the ballot late last year.

Ms Seales believes there is widespread public support for law reform, and she wants Members of Parliament to have the courage to address the question.

The public response to me has been overwhelmingly positive. There’s been the odd letter that thought it was a bad idea, but on the whole it’s been hugely positive. The politicians being shy on this issue are not up with public opinion.

Prime Minister John Key has said he supports voluntary euthanasia under limited circumstances, and believes a member's bill before parliament is the right way to debate the issue, but believes Ms Street’s bill went too far.

Opponents of voluntary euthanasia say any law on assisted dying would send the wrong signal to society’s most vulnerable, and the “right to die” could easily morph into a “duty to die”.

There are assisted dying laws in the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Switzerland and several states in the United States.

Twelve years ago, former New Zealand First MP Peter Brown’s "Death with Dignity” bill was narrowly defeated 60-58 in its first reading in parliament.

Lecretia Seales talks to Kathryn Ryan about her fight for law reform.