"DYING with dignity" seems to me a Hollywood fantasy, much like its filtered portrayal of births, love and war.

In real life, few people get to utter dying wishes to a horseshoe of family gathered around a bed, and then sink into their silk pillow and the next world with a last peaceful breath.
For most of us, dying is messy or unexpected or both.

Even those who are old or sick cannot predict the time of death, as I learned when my mother died suddenly years ago.

Scrambling flights with my daughter, we ended up barely making the funeral. With no time to pack we stood shivering at the graveside dressed in our New Zealand summer clothes in the middle of the English winter.


My daughter still had her Fly Emirates backpack on. I was wearing impossibly high suede shoes, which sank into the graveyard soil.

No-one has warning. Despite knowing we all will die we don't have coffins in the garage or funeral shoes polished at the ready.

At the wake afterwards, my uncle comforted us with platitudes that death, like life, although both certainties, are unpredictable.

I was reminded of his words earlier this year when he too died. He was waiting for hospital visitors and had asked them to bring him a Magnum.

His friend phoned me in tears. He hadn't waited for his ice cream. It had melted all over her.

She sobbed to his dead body that he had survived the Navy, the war, a Japanese camp and 80-odd years, so could he not have just waited a few more moments for one last almond Magnum?

There are those who die without living their whole life. Like 32-year-old Papamoa massage therapist Sarah Morrison, whose farewell was held this week at Mount Surf Club after she lost her battle with bowel cancer.

Sarah clung on to life with her brightly manicured fingertips, still believing she would recover even in her hospice bed.


Then there are the people whose death is not only unexpected but seems so random.

Like Bay mother Lisa Yieng. One minute last Saturday morning she was on her way to work. The next minute she was on her way to hospital, dying, after her car had collided with a truck.

Others whose brutal end is at the hands of another. Like Bay woman Ravneet Sangha and her 2-year-old daughter Anna who, five years ago, were brutally murdered in their Ngatai Rd home.

This week we featured a story of how her husband, Tauranga taxi driver Dev, had found new happiness.

The headline said, "The wheel of life turns for cabbie".

The circle of life, the wheel of fortune.


Whether you are a Lion King fan or not, it's a philosophical concept that human beings have been grappling with since time began.

Do we all have a destiny that is predetermined? Or do we have the freedom of free will?
Choosing when we die would once have seemed inconceivable.

A favourable High Court ruling would have allowed others to follow suit and potentially sent a signal for further law reform.

So once would have choosing when and how we are born, but scientific advances in IVF and embryo screening for genetic diseases has certainly improved life for many - not least couples struggling with fertility issues.

Choosing when we die, though, still seems something Matrix-like. Alien to us. Not human.

Yet the debate needs to be had.

For that, we can be grateful to Lecretia Seales, the terminally ill lawyer who mounted a legal challenge seeking the right for a doctor to help her die without criminal prosecution.


Her death early yesterday came before the judge made public his decision.

Her legal argument - a first in New Zealand - was that it was a fundamental right to be able to choose to end her life with medical assistance, if she wanted, before her suffering became intolerable.

It was an argument that relied on the provisions in the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act, which protect the rights to not be deprived of life or subjected to cruel treatment.

A favourable High Court ruling would have allowed others to follow suit and potentially send a signal for further law reform.

Ironic that a bill put in place to protect human life was being used to defend the right to end it.

But even those who at this stage, like me, are against euthanasia, could not have failed to be moved by Seales' plight.


She didn't set out to be the poster child for the pro-euthanasia debate, but there couldn't have been a more perfect one.

An intelligent and articulate young woman, cut down from the top of her game, as Dawn Picken writes in her story today.

The former Tauranga Girls' College woman's symptoms of pain and paralysis were hard to watch.

Who were we to say she should have rattled round in her hospital bed, mute, with her eyes shut until the fat lady sang?

Pain and suffering is what we all fear in death. It seems so much easier to say yes let's rush it along.

Despite this, I, and many New Zealanders will be glad the judge ruled that medically assisted death will stay illegal.


For if another ruling had set a precedent, where could it have taken us?

Who would decide when someone can die? What conditions might they have?

Would a person suffering from, say, a depression that they thought as equally incurable as Seales' condition, be allowed to legally opt out with a GP's help?

Our health system is already stretched. As we have reported recently, many in the Bay have been turned away from surgery and are living with painful conditions.

There is a danger that assisted dying may become a less expensive option, putting the poor, the old, the vulnerable and the uninsured at risk.

Or those who are wealthy might be at risk from relatives waiting for an inheritance, wanting to pull an early plug on grandma.

Despite this, I, and many New Zealanders will be glad the judge ruled that medically assisted death will stay illegal.

Death is never pretty. But this debate should not be coloured by an emotive and terrible story of a woman who faced death and wanting to end suffering.

The Crown dismissed the "rhetorical flourish" of arguments used by Seales' lawyers about her suffering, arguing that the suffering, and even accompanying humiliation of having others care for you was "unavoidable in the phenomenon of illness and ultimately in dying.

It may be distressing, but it is not gravely humiliating and debasing", reported The Listener this week on the case.

However sympathetic we were to Seales, individual desire should not determine the morals, ethics and medical laws that frame our society.

I would rather funding and future legislation be directed to caring well for the living, including taking care of the sick.

That more funding went into palliative care so that dying can be done in the best way possible that neither hastens or prolongs death - as is the philosophy of our own Waipuna Hospice.


To do otherwise would be to tinker with the circle of life. It would be spiking the wheel of fortune, which, despite its unpredictability, suffering and sadness also spins acceptance, happiness, and - crucially - freedom.

Freedom, which is part of the human condition. What living, and dying are all about, as Lion King fans know.

In the Circle of Life

It's the wheel of fortune.

It's the leap of faith

It's the band of hope


Till we find our place

On the path unwinding

In the circle of life.