Lecretia Seales, who is seeking the right to die with dignity
Lecretia Seales, who is seeking the right to die with dignity

Let’s start debating how to die with dignity!

By John Murray
Former Moderator of the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa, NZ
Former member of the National VES Committee

What’s the problem? We shall all die. But the real question is have we the right to die with dignity?

As I sat in No1 Court in Wellington this week and looked across to see the slumped body of Lecretia Seales, I knew again my answer.
Here was the desperately ill figure of a vital, lively and intelligent woman in the grips of an aggressive brain cyst.

She was pleading to the Court for her GP to be allowed to ease her way into death when the time comes, without being charged with
the crime of assisting suicide.

‘The great passing-out parade’

In the great passing-out parade, when our time comes, who would not ask,\ whatever their faith, in the words of the compassionate Saint Francis,
“And thou most kind and gentle death
waiting to hush our latest breath ……”

So I sat there and listened to the lawyers dividing the law with the greatest of competence and the least of human kindness.

The Counsel for the Crown declared that the law is the law. This is a matter for Parliament not the Court. And the learned professor supporting him,
quoted at length the law in the State of Montana and said “having liberty did not include the right to die” ……. whatever that meant?

The religious group & the ‘slippery slope’

Counsel for the Care Alliance – basically a religious group – opposed any change in the law and raised “fears” of what might happen …. “all people would
be at risk ……. the right for euthanasia would might lead to a “slippery slope” leading to euthanasia on demand”. Was there an echo here of the Nazi death
camps? The Counsel never mentioned the vital word “voluntary”

Counsel for the Voluntary Euthanasia Society (VES), aka End of Life Choice, simply said the purpose of the case was to relieve Lecretia’s suffering and that of others.

Counsel for Lecretia said, among other things, that “a total ban is asked for …. it is the individual that matters ….. the only way to test the law is for GP to do it and be prosecuted.”

Counsel for the Human Rights Commission, quoting the Bill of Rights said ” the Bill champions human dignity and value” and its section 6 is to be preferred over the law.

The Judge’s ponderings

The Judge, Justice David Collins, sat quietly pondering what is the real question and what should be his judgment – which he will give as soon as possible for the sake of the plaintive.

To me as I listened, there seemed a dreadful irony in the proceedings. Here in No1 Court, a place for criminals to be tried and punished, sat an innocent woman being tried for asking that the law be changed to respect her right to die with dignity. Is that a crime?

Or will the Judge rule that “the Crimes Act is inconsistent with her [human] rights”?

This would test the preference of the Bill of Rights [1990]] to set aside the law and allow Lecretia Seales the right to die – with dignity.

Is it left to Parliament then to change the law? I believe that is so but the leaders of all Parties refuse to face the question or even set up a Select Committee to start the debate.

There is so much involved in this issue – fear of death, fear of losing control over “morality”.
fear of the “slippery slope”, what is human dignity, on what grounds must laws be changed.
All this needs a deeper conversation, such as this “paper” KIN could promote, on how
“to die with dignity.”