Dying wishes

By January 8, 2015 Recent News

NZ Listener 8 January 2015
Evidence of a meticulous intellect at work sits in high stacks of convoluted documents in the Wellington office of Lecretia Seales. Every day, she makes her way from the Karori home she shares with her husband, Matt, to her 19th-floor Featherston St workplace to devote another fraction of her precious remaining time to one of her life’s abiding passions: law reform.
A senior legal and policy adviser with the Law Commission*, she is also, at 41, dying of brain cancer. And in what may be one of her last acts of devotion to the law, she is speaking out for autonomy and dignity in the manner and timing of her inevitable premature death.
“I am not afraid of dying, but I am petrified by what may happen to me in the lead-up to my death,” says Seales. “My greatest fear is that my husband will have a mad wife to deal with, like Mr Rochester in Jane Eyre. As far as I’m concerned, if I get to a point where I can no longer recognise or communicate with my husband, then for all intents and purposes I will already be dead. Nor do I wish to be a prisoner in my own body, unable to move and lying in my own excrement.”
She is not depressed, nor is she fixated on the possibility of a painful death preceded by the loss of her physical and mental capacities. Quite the opposite: her mother, Shirley Seales, says she is extraordinarily tough and well adjusted. And Seales herself says most of the time she pushes the fact that she has terminal cancer out of her mind and “pretend[s] that I’m going to live”.
But she has considered how the law in New Zealand provides for a person in her position and has found it wanting. If she was in the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg or Switzerland, or in the US state of Oregon, Washington, Montana or Vermont, or in the Canadian province of Quebec, she would have the option of seeking help to die if she faced unbearable pain or suffering as a result of her illness.