6 Jun 2015

Labour to push for euthanasia law change

6:51 am on 6 June 2015

Advocates for legalising euthanasia are vowing to step up their campaign for law change, despite a High Court ruling rejecting the case brought by Lecretia Seales.

Lecretia Seales

Lecretia Seales Photo: FACEBOOK

Ms Seales, who was 42, died yesterday, on the same day that Justice Collins released his decision that her doctor did not have the right to help her end her life.

The Voluntary Euthanasia Society said its petition calling for Parliament to debate physician assisted suicide for people with terminal or incurable painful conditions had already gained 3000 signatures.

Its president, Dr Jack Havill, said politicians could not continue to ignore the issue.

"We thank Lecretia for summoning her courage and limited energy to bring this case forward. She has demonstrated that the time has come for real debate about this issue."

Labour MP Iain Lees-Galloway, whose End of Life Choice Bill was shelved by the Party last year, said he would be tabling the petition Parliament after it closes at the end of the month.

He said Labour leader, Andrew Little, had agreed that Labour MPs would push for a full Select Committee inquiry.

Lecretia Seales' husband Matt Vickers speaking at a news conference in Wellington on Friday.

Lecretia Seales' husband Matt Vickers speaking at a news conference in Wellington on Friday. Photo: RNZ / Tom Furley

"That way we can take some of the politics out of it. I don't think anyone driving this issue wants this to be a political football."

He said the goal would be to get cross-party consensus on euthanasia, and ultimately for the Government to introduce legislation.

Ms Seales, who worked for law firm Chen Palmer and the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet before taking a role with the Law Commission, had argued she only sought to "clarify" the law on whether it would be an offence under the Crimes Act for her doctor to be able to help her die.

Her legal team had further argued that the ban on assisted dying contravened her human rights under the Bill of Rights Act, pointing to a similar case in Canada.

However, Justice Collins said New Zealand's suicide laws were not the same as Canada's.

In his written judgement, he said only Parliament could change the law to reflect Ms Seales' wishes, and Ms Seales doctor would have been at risk of being prosecuted for either murder or manslaughter or assisting suicide.

Euthanasia Free New Zealand said Parliament, not the court, was the right place to debate end of life issues.

Justice Collins

Justice Collins Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

Its executive officer, Renee Joubert, said no-one could be unmoved by Ms Seales' sad plight and she had deep sympathy for her family and friends.

"But the legalisation of voluntary euthanasia and assisted suicide is not merely a matter of individual choice and should not be based on individual tragic cases."

She said it would be impossible to prevent abuse and coercion.

"As a society we need to do everything possible to relieve people's suffering and ensure that everyone dies comfortably and with dignity. However, this legislation is not the solution. It's simply too dangerous for society."

A palliative care expert said there was no medical justification for either euthanasia or physician-assisted suicide.

Rod MacLeod, formerly of Otago University and now Professor of Palliative Care at the University of Sydney, said in his experience, patients facing death often say they "don't want to live like this".

"But what they're saying is exactly that: 'I don't want to live like this'.

"They're not necessarily saying, 'I want to be dead', although some of them say that.

"But as soon as you provide them with security and with information and with guidance and with effective symptom management, those requests reduce."

Lecretia Seales

Photo: SUPPLIED

Professor MacLeod said New Zealand had excellent palliative care services, and instead of changing the law to allow euthanasia, the emphasis should be on putting more resources into them.

He said legalising physician-assisted suicide would "irrevocably change" the doctor-patient relationship, and put an unfair burden on doctors.

Read the media release from the High Court (PDF, 500KB)

Read Justice Collins' judgment: Seales v Attorney-General (PDF, 421KB)

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