27 May 2015

Consequences of right-to-die case raised

7:01 am on 27 May 2015

The Solicitor-General is questioning what will happen if a Wellington woman gets her wish to be helped to die and it goes wrong.

Lecretia Seales on TVNZ's Sunday programme.

Lecretia Seales on TVNZ's Sunday programme. Photo: TVNZ

Lecretia Seales is asking the High Court at Wellington to allow her doctor to to help her die, without being prosecuted for doing so.

Ms Seales, 42, has terminal brain cancer and her statement of claim 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.

Solicitor-General Michael Heron, QC, started presenting the Crown's case yesterday, saying New Zealand's constitution was such that it was Parliament and not the courts who must decide such a thing.

He also cautioned against believing dying with a doctor's help was the answer to avoiding what Ms Seales' had termed unendurable suffering.

"It is not as simple as suggesting that it's a straightforward administration of medication and a peaceful death," he said.

"We have to be very careful about thinking that the alternate is simple, peaceful, easy. It might be but we have no knowledge of that.

"What if the medication chosen produces a terrible death, as some have done."

Mr Heron asked Justice Collins whether the court was going to grant immunity from prosecution to Ms Seales' doctor given those unknowns.

Ms Seales did not make it to court to hear Mr Heron's submission yesterday; she was recently told she had only weeks or a few months at the most to live and is very ill.

Former Solicitor-General Michael Heron, QC

Solicitor-General Michael Heron, QC Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

However, her husband and father were there to hear her legal team finish presenting its case.

Her lawyer Chris Curran said Ms Seales would be forced to commit suicide while she was still physically able if her wish to die with help was not granted.

That meant she would die sooner than she had to because she could not face the thought of what she believed would be unendurable suffering, such as losing control of her bodily functions and having to rely on others to clean her up.

Lecretia Seales lawyer Chris Curran.

Lecretia Seales' lawyer, Chris Curran. Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

The Crown concludes its case today and will focus on the Bill of Rights.

Justice Collins has also considered written submissions from the Voluntary Euthanasia Society, the Care Alliance and the Human Rights Commission and may yet invite them to speak to those submissions.