Lecretia’s Legacy

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LECRETIA SEALES has delivered into our hands a grim but important legacy. Though her bid to have assisted death declared legal by a judge of the High Court of New Zealand has failed, and though her tragic death has rendered the issues she raised moot, Lecretia has still succeeded.

What she sought, in bringing her case to court, was a clear statement of the legal principles relevant to assisted death and euthanasia, as well as all the legal impediments to realising those objectives. This she has achieved.

Judge Collins’ judgement has, quite correctly, declined Lecretia’s invitation to legislate from the Bench, and handed over the responsibility for resolving the stark challenges of euthanasia and medically assisted dying to the people of New Zealand through their elected representatives in Parliament.

The New Zealand constitution reserves to Parliament, as the ultimate distillation of the people’s will, the right to frame and fashion the laws that govern its citizens. Judge Collins was not about to overturn that core constitutional convention, and it is likely that Lecretia never seriously entertained the slightest hope that he would.

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What this quiet and reportedly rather self-effacing woman did understand, however, was that by bringing her case to court she would focus the attention of the whole of New Zealand society upon her tragic circumstances and the means she sought to prevent them from obliterating the person that she was. Win or lose, she knew that her actions would require people to think about and, hopefully, come to a decision about the rights and wrongs of the legal changes she was proposing.

It was a brave and deeply ethical thing that Lecretia Seales did. In a society that seems at times positively terrified of thinking seriously about anything, she invited us to shake off our more familiar roles as consumers, viewers, texters and takers of endless selfies, to become, if only for a little while, citizens.

We have been asked to engage in a serious discussion about the meaning of life and the experience of death. To test our own feelings about when it might be acceptable to put aside the great commandment “Thou shalt not kill”, in favour of the even greater exhortation to “Love thy neighbour as thyself”.

For that is the calculation that Lecretia, herself, was forced by her illness to make. What is the self that we are being asked to cherish? Is it our healthy self; the self that allows us to show the world the full extent of what we have to contribute? Or, are we being asked to cherish with equal passion a damaged and agonised self; a self distorted by disease and pain; a being that has become a burden to both the world – and itself.

If a person, in full possession of their faculties, and facing the truth of their situation rationally and honestly, decides that they would like to exercise control over the way they leave their life behind, who dares claim the right to prevent them from doing so? In the past, the answer society gave to that question was, God. It was a sin for anyone other than God himself to take a human life – even if that life was one’s own.

New Zealanders have decided that, at least as far as the law is concerned, God’s wishes need not be considered when it comes to suicide. And, if that is the case, why should it be illegal for a doctor to facilitate his or her patient’s decision to end their life at a time of their own choosing?

Such is Lecretia’s legacy: this grim choice. To either accept the heavy duty of formulating a citizen’s judgement, or, to simply turn away and put off all consideration of life’s meaning until the moment that Death’s dark hand knocks loudly upon our door. Praying that when his dread summons finally comes, the self he carries off is the best we have to offer.

In that, too, Lecretia has left us a powerful and enduring example.

9 COMMENTS

  1. Nope…dont agree with assisted suicide.

    Why?

    Because …and I realize that some people have horrific terminal illnesses…that begins the slippery slope towards all sorts of abuses and justifications.

    From the eugenics of the 1930’s to paid doctor’s to assist termination in 2015.

    It is far too wide open to abuse.

    If you want to argue financial costs via legal ‘ did he or did he not become complicit in manslaughter ‘ as a medical practitioner…

    Through to the home assisted ‘suicide ‘ that actually was to get rid of a senile old parent in order to get that inheritance.

    You see where this is leading?

    Look- I had an 11 years ,11 months old son who died through malpractice and misdiagnoses of ALL – Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia…

    It wasn’t the cancer that killed him as he was the poster boy for health and hope with Starship Hospital – their star patient – it was the incompetence of the doctors at Waikato hospital and their medical labs in failing to read his medical notes and more importantly – report on to Starship.

    He developed Pneumo Cystis Careeni – something that GP’s and in particular the diagnostic labs and medical staff at Waikato Hospital had absolutely no right at all to be trying to diagnose something which they had absolutely no competence in whatsoever, in a specialist field with which Starship dealt with regularly.

    Their constant arrivals at conclusions reached the ludicrous and absurd – from blaming the parents for non compliance through to prescribing Ventolin because of a ‘ chest infection’….

    That was a major eye opener to how many wankers there are claiming to be experts in this country.

    My sister was a Staff nurse for most of her working life and I had studied extensively in Science and Technology – the report we put together to submit to the Commissioner of Health and Disability had those bastards ducking for cover left , right and center.

    Now……..my point is this :

    As I watched my son dying in his bed with respiratory tubes sticking out of him at the PICU Ward at Starship – I was asked as the father ,- permission to administer a lethal dose of fucking morphine to my eldest and first son.

    They wanted to defer their guilt onto a father in the most stressful and vulnerable period he would ever face.

    It was the most obscene moment of pressurized collective guilt I had ever experienced – and I was being asked to be the goddamned executioner of my own son.

    I refused. Point fucking blank.

    I was pro life and pro fucking holding on to hope for six fucking weeks when he was at PICU..

    Now I have heard all arguments for and against legalized assistance. Heard it all – the pain – the suffering – et all ….

    My kid suffered from that cancer for 8 years of his almost 12 years of life. And he was doing well for most of it – and he faced death with more courage than most adults ever will.

    And to me THIS isn’t some bullshit exercise in ethics or legality , – THIS isn’t some fanciful crusading of the right to choose or pay the right doctor to be a legal executioner –

    This is about the SANCTITY of life and guarding against those who would seek to denigrate that right of sanctity ……………..and drag us down to the level of NAZI Germany and its practice of state sanctioned eugenics – THE RIGHT OF THE STATE TO PRACTICE LEGALIZED MURDER.

    So yeah – I’ve got my own reasons for disagreeing with this sort of slippage of the value of a human life.

    But , – unlike many of these academics – I fucking lived it.

    I wasn’t some mealy mouthed academic spouting off from the bloody sidelines.

    • I agree with Wild Katipo that a one size fits all law would be open to abuse. I would, however, be in favour of a law that would enable the person that wishes to end their life, to state their case in court, based on their own circumstances and prognosis. To enable judges to make that decision, there needs to be a law change so their hands are not tied by current legislation. Only the actual person who wishes to end their life, should ever be allowed to submit a case for it, not representatives, relatives, spouses or parents, no-one but the person, in person.

  2. Hi Chris.

    My personal belief is that a modern, compassionate society, should allow and if necessary – assist, an ill or injured person to die if they so wish. I believe there should be a proper legal framework in place that requires informed consent and that involves multiple safeguards to prevent abuse or wrongdoing. I don’t support the current situation where a compassionate person who assists an ill or injured person to die, is legally a criminal and liable to jail time.

    I’m no expert – just an ordinary bloke from the suburbs. I watched up close, my beloved mother (and also her brother – my uncle) suffer and eventually die from Motor Neurone Disease. This is a terrible affliction that causes the muscles in the body to waste away. It has no known cure and with only a handful of exceptions in history – is fatal. My mum first started getting twitching in her legs. This never stopped, and it drove her crazy beacuse she could get no relief from it. Slowly she began to notice other symptoms. She was always tired, always feeling worn out. Over time she got progressively weaker and weaker. One day she could no longer walk more than a few steps. Then she couldn’t support her own weight. She was confined to a chair or stuck in bed. I can remember coming home one day to find her terribly thirsty. She told me in a weak whispery voice, that she could no longer even pick up a glass to drink. I remember that she had to wear a brace to stop her chest collapsing or she would suffocate. All this time, her mind was unaffected – the disease does not affect the brain in that way. But she was totally devastated by her situation as she was completely powerless against it. Eventually, her diaphragm became so weak that she couldn’t even breathe without assistance. My mother did not end her life. She died of her affliction. But some sufferers from Motor Neurone Disease survive past this point and end up so physically incapacitated that they are “shut inside” a completely useless body – terrified beyond belief, unable to move, talk, or communicate.

    Why should people like those who suffer from Motor Neurone Disease or other terrible afflictions be denied the right to end their own life?

    I don’t support Nazism or people being put to death because someone else decides they are burden to society, unworthy of life, or would otherwise like them “out of the way” – that is murder plain and simple. I don’t support giving doctors or nurses a license to kill. I doubt anyone who supports the right to voluntary euthanasia would accept any of these evil ideas either. If an ill or injured person has quality of life, and a desire to live they should be helped and encouraged to do so. But if they are suffering, and want to end that suffering by ending their life then they should be allowed to.

    I believe life is a very precious thing. It has immense value. It should be preserved and protected as much as possible. I believe that every person should get the best medical treatment and care that modern science has to offer. But if there is no effective treatment for the condition with which they suffer, no hope of improvement, and declining quality of life – why should the sufferer be denied the right to end their misery on their own terms and and at a time of their own choosing if they so wish?

    I support this right.

  3. Yes…agree with terminally ill people being given the chance to die with dignity relatively pain free when they wish to go.

    There should be a binding referendum so that folks can have their say.

    Politicians are untrustworthy when it comes to voting on laws such as legalizing assisted euthanasia, they are only interested in retaining their seats next election and can be easily swayed by the religious right to life lobby

    Let the public have their say! This is more important than Key’s flag vote…in fact they could be enclosed together.

  4. If someone is dying from a terminal disease, then their death is imminent, and only the length of time is in question. Therefore, taking control of one’s remaining period of time and choosing when/how one will die when it’s inevitable already, seems pretty logical to me. We don’t let animals suffer but yet think it’s ok for humans to hang on till the bitter, painful, degrading end for no apparent reason.

    So yes, voluntary assisted suicide for terminally ill. Because their death will happen regardless. It’s certainly what I would want for myself. My body, my choice.

  5. Nothing about these questions is easy. But for me the laws formulated by the community are formed for the purposes of the community, not its members. We wish to establish the principle of the primacy of the protection of life. This why we have the statutes we do. Not for the families of victims, even less for the victims themselves. We have them because we wish there to be inalienable principles in the regulation of our state. When there is a dissonance in this primacy, such as in the case of abortion, for instance, or mercy killing, the core principle must be considered against the interests of the individual on a case-by-case basis.

    We do not sanction the killing of another person, say, by a compassionate family member or friend. But when they find that their obligations to a person who wishes to die transcends their obligation to the state, or in other circumstances a doctor follows the considered request of a dying patient, we have a system sufficiently flexible to discharge without conviction or in some other way recognize the extreme circumstance that led to so drastic an action. I hope that if the situation demanded it, that I would have the courage to take that step. But I also hope that I would have to justify my action, and face sanction if appropriate. I hate the idea that the decision be ceded to some bureaucrat to stamp a death warrant as just one more for the day’s work.

    Obviously anyone can formulate a situation where this structure is found wanting, but that is the very nature of dissonance. We just have to chose a system which is principled and most likely to do the least harm.

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