Seales v Attorney General

High Court Case

Lecretia Seales was diagnosed with a brain tumour in 2011. On 21 March 2015 her lawyers lodged an application in the High Court for a declaratory judgment that would allow Ms Seales’ GP to assist her to die without being prosecuted under the Crimes Act 1961.

Front of the Wellington High Court in New Zealand.

Her request, if granted, would have had the effect of legalising euthanasia for a broad range of people with terminal and non-terminal illnesses, including those with mental illnesses.

The Care Alliance, as well as the Voluntary Euthanasia Society and the Human Rights Commission, applied for and were granted “intervener” status. This allowed the three groups to present limited evidence and submissions to assist the Court.

Justice Collins provided his judgment declining all the orders sought by Ms Seales on 4 June 2015.

"I have decided that Ms Seales’ right not to be deprived of life is engaged, but not breached in her case. I have also concluded that Ms Seales’ right not to be subjected to cruel, degrading or disproportionately severe treatment is not engaged by her tragic circumstances. I have therefore concluded the relevant provisions of the Crimes Act are consistent with the rights and freedoms contained in the NZBORA. The criminal law declarations sought by Ms Seales invite me to change the effect of the offence provisions of the Crimes Act. The changes to the law sought by Ms Seales can only be made by Parliament. I would be trespassing on the role of Parliament and departing from the constitutional role of Judges in New Zealand if I were to issue the criminal law declarations sought by Ms Seales."

Read the judgement here.


Affidavits by witnesses for the Care Alliance

Research Fellow

Dr Huhana Hickey

“At the heart of arguments for euthanasia and assisted suicide is a belief that some lives are not worth living. That attitude devalues the lives of disabled people.

It is an attitude that is reinforced daily by the media’s idealisation of what constitutes a ‘good life’: the perfect body, a better house in a better suburb, a high-paying high-status job, the accumulation of material goods or exciting experiences. Meanwhile, disabled people face up to accomplishing the everyday tasks that others take for granted: washing, getting dressed and fed, having the dignity of work. We truly know that “the perfect is the enemy of the good”.”

Not Dead Yet Aotearoa

Wendi Wicks and Robyn Hunt

“As long as disabled people are disenfranchised and made to feel that we are burdens on society and on those shoe support us in the community, euthanasia and physician assisted suicide can not be a free choice for a disabled individual. It cannot be a choice made freely as long as people with disabilities are denied adequate healthcare, housing, transportation, personal support services, education, employment and community access.”

Affidavits by witnesses for the Attorney General

Community Palliative Care Physician

Dr Amanda Landers

“Palliative Care affirms life and regards dying as a normal process. It improves the quality of life of patients and their families facing the problems associated with life-limiting illness. It aims to prevent and relieve suffering by means of early identification, and assessment and treatment of pain and other problems – physical, psychosocial and spiritual. It is about life, not death.”

Consultant Physician and Professor of Palliative Medicine

Baroness Ilora Finlay

“There are a large number of papers published in the medical literature on attempts to find prognostic markers in advanced disease; they reveal that none have high accuracy. Although the average, median and range of life expectancy across a population with a condition can be stated, it is impossible to predict where an individual’s life expectancy lies within this range; there are always exceptional cases, where individuals live longer (sometimes very much longer) than the range documented in the literature. Over years of clinical practice I have come to realise that the only honest answer to the question ‘How long have I got?’ is ‘I honestly cannot tell’.”

Director, The Nathaniel Centre

Dr John Kleinsman

“The pro-euthanasia doctor, Ron Jonquiere, who has recently toured New Zealand and who is described by the Voluntary Euthanasia Society as a “world expert”, a “principal architect of the Dutch euthanasia legislation” and “one of the world’s leading campaigners” for euthanasia and assisted suicide, readily admits that “the problem is not so much physical, but social and emotional.””

Palliative Care Nurse Specialist

Jude Pickthorne

“In my experience, many if not most people (and their families) are scared and frightened as they first engage with palliative care. A key part of our role is to address their fears and concerns by talking openly about what lies ahead. As they learn about what to expect and what can be done to assure them of their dignity and comfort throughout, their fears are lessened. They can then turn their focus to the really important things they want to accomplish in the time left to them. Naturally, most often that is their relationships with family and friends.”

Chief Executive, Hospice NZ

Mary Schumacher

“From experience we know that people who are coming to the end of their lives are vulnerable, there is vulnerability in all life, but when people are closer to the end of their lives the feeling of vulnerability can be heightened. People using hospice services could be described as being at their most real/raw, there is nothing to hide. This is when the art and the science of providing palliative care comes together. The art is listening to that vulnerability and discussing what ways this can be managed. This may take the form of end of life planning, funeral arrangements, planning for death or taking care of loved ones.”

Professor of Palliative Care

Prof Robert George

“One can both envisage and sympathise with the pressured clinician who doesn’t stop at a period of controlled sedation but administers a lethal drug, reflectively justifies her decision and then finds it increasingly the most ‘humane’ solution for the patient, when it is in fact merely the quickest, easiest and least distressing solution to those witnessing events, including her. It will pass unnoticed that checks for reversible causes, systematic evaluations of pain, or slow and gentle conversation to calm and understand someone’s internal world, however limited in access, are mysteriously seen as less and less relevant or necessary.”

Senior Staff Specialist, Palliative Care

Dr Rod McLeod

“At the heart of palliative care is trust. Trust is a confident belief and reliance upon the ability and moral character of another person. It entails a confidence that another person will act with the right motives in accordance with moral norms. People with life-limiting illnesses, and their families and friends, need to be able to trust that their carers are, for example, telling them the truth.”

Palliative Care Physician

Dr Sinéad Donnelly

“It is also recognised that referral to palliative care, especially if made early in the process before issues become acute, can not only improve the quality of a person’s life, but also help them live longer. This is not surprising: as their symptoms (such as pain and nausea) are relieved people may eat more, move around more, take more enjoyment from their days. This means that not only do they experience less distress they avoid unnecessary complications such as infections and pneumonia.”

Consultant Palliative Care Physician

Dr Tony O'Brien

“How can one be certain that such a request is not made under some form of duress, explicit or implicit? I am aware from my work with many elderly people of the real concern they have regarding the burden that their on-going care presents to close family members. I am deeply concerned that such vulnerable groups, were physician assisted suicide made legal, might request such a course, in order to spare their loved ones the burden (financial and emotional) of providing their on-going care. Even more concerning is my suspicion that such patients may never acknowledge such a motive.”