Seales case highlights difficulties in devising practical euthanasia law.

Tributes to Lecretia Seales praised her courage in making the end of her life a test case for euthanasia. Sir Geoffrey Palmer, who employed her at the Law Commission, said: "Her idea to turn her experience into a law reform project was typical of her. What a brilliant idea. She always thinks of others first. She never complains. I salute her."

Her husband, Matt Vickers, expressed similar sentiments after her death. He called on Parliament to "have the courage to debate this issue, to show a quantum of the courage my wife has shown these past months".

So it is fair, I think, to draw what lessons are available from what he has told us of her death. Clearly it was not as drawn-out and dreadful as her lawyers had feared in the High Court at Wellington a week earlier.

Her husband said, "In the end, Lecretia was fortunate that her death happened quickly, and that she was cared for by some very fine health professionals from hospice and DHB. Others are not so lucky".


Maybe not, but that is conjecture. His wife was offering us real evidence to assess.

In court, her lawyers had made it clear she was not seeking euthanasia at that time, merely the right to ask for it before she became too ill to be able to ask. So at what point precisely would a person ask a doctor for death?

I think that is an important question for supporters of euthanasia to ask themselves before they call on the medical profession and society at large to provide a legal right that would offend the inherent value of human life.

When people declare, as many do, that they want to be put down before they lose their faculties, they always sound a little too shrill. They are taking a devilish delight in challenging the most basic instinct of any living thing.

It can be satisfying to confront deeply held but inchoate values with the cold, hard logic of individual rights and choice. It is especially satisfying when the logic allows you to face the fear of death and laugh at it even bitterly. But that is too easy to do when the prospect hopefully is far in the future. The closer people are to death the more credible their declaration can be, but still I wonder if they would really take that monstrous step when it came to the point.

Mr Vickers' account of Lecretia Seales near the end doesn't make it clear whether she would have asked her doctor to give her a lethal substance at some point in the six days between the end of the hearing and the delivery of Justice David Collins' decision against her, by which time she had lost the ability to speak.

Mr Vickers said, "Even though she couldn't speak, she was able to share her feelings through her expression. There was no mistaking her response. She was hurt and disappointed. She fixed me with a stare with her good eye as if to say: Isn't this my body? My life? Her breath slowed and she turned her head away. Her reaction utterly broke my heart."

Had she wanted to die at some time in the preceding days, I think he would have mentioned it. His description of her reaction to the decision could suggest he believes she wanted to take the step at that point, but the words he discerns in her expression are no more than words of the debate.


He said he explained to her that she would not be able to seek assistance to die, that "nature would need to run its course, and that her mother and I would do everything we could to make her comfortable and pain-free. We would accede to the wishes she had laid out in her advance directive and act out her wishes in accordance with the law."

He did not elaborate on the directive and those wishes. If they had anything to do with the issue his wife wanted to highlight, he would have said so.

The Seales case illustrates one of the practical difficulties with euthanasia: those who are well enough to ask for it don't want it until their illness is so well advanced that doctors cannot be sure the patient is in the right mental state to make such a fateful decision. Catch 22.

There are other practical problems, including some crucial definitions of terminal illness and whether doctor-assisted suicide should be available for anything a sufferer found unbearable.

These may be the main reasons Parliament has refused to legalise euthanasia. But the practical pitfalls are merely symptomatic of the subject's sickening disregard for the honour and dignity of living to the last possible gasp.