21 Mar 2015

Lawyer files action to choose time of death

4:05 pm on 21 March 2015

A 41-year-old Wellington lawyer dying of brain cancer is taking historic legal action in the High Court to allow her to die when she wants to without prosecution.

Lecretia Seales was diagnosed with a terminal tumour four years ago and has been told she may only have months to live.

Lecretia Seales

Lecretia Seales Photo: SUPPLIED

Yesterday she took the unprecedented step of asking the court for a ruling that would ensure her doctor would not be charged if she helps her to die.

Ms Seales told Radio New Zealand earlier this month she wanted the right to choose the time if, and when, the disease became intolerable.

"I guess it's fear of suffering, and I've seen older relatives really suffer. I don't want that for me. I also ... I just don't want to lose my mind, because it's been such an important part of my life."

Ms Seales has worked with the Law Commission, the Prime Minister's Department and the law firm Chen Palmer, was diagnosed four years ago.

A recent brain scan shows it is advancing, and she may have no more than months to live.

The statement of claim, filed yesterday, argues if a doctor cannot lawfully help her die, then she will face a choice between taking her own life or suffering a slow and painful death.

Ms Seales's legal team wants to expedite the case because of her declining health.

There have been strong responses to the case across the country.

The lobby group Family First said that she should not be using her professional situation to resolve her situation.

It said the situation should not be solved in the courtroom or by a change in law, but through palliative care.

Family First believes that allowing assisted suicide would put depressed, elderly, sick and disabled people at risk.

However, a group lobbying for voluntary euthanasia said Ms Sales' case, if successful, would send a big message to the Government and the courts.

The President of the Voluntary Euthanasia Society, Dr Jack Havill, said it echoed a recent Canadian Supreme Court case, as it used human rights legislation to argue a person should be able to decide when they die.

Meanwhile, a spokesperson for Euthanasia-Free New Zealand, David Richmond, said though it was impossible not to be moved by Ms Seales' situation, if her legal action was successful it would adversely affect the rights of others.

Professor Richmond feared if were guaranteed the right to state-sanctioned death, it would cause significant abuses.