Euthanasia advocate finds Bill wording 'problematic'

News 08/04/2019

The husband of a woman who died fighting for the right to end her own life says she might not have made the call to do it.

"The important thing was just having the choice, and knowing it was there if she needed it," Matt Vickers told The AM Show on Monday.

Vickers' wife Lecretia Seales succumbed to a brain tumour in 2015, just hours after a judge ruled anyone who helped her die prematurely could face manslaughter or murder charges. Vickers told The AM Show why they fought for euthanasia.

It wasn't because she wanted to die - she didn't. She wanted to live and be healthy, and have her old life back

"But the simple facts of the matter were that she was dying, and nothing she could do could change that."

The Justice Select Committee looking at ACT MP David Seymour's End of Life Choice Bill will report back on Tuesday. The Bill aims to give "people with a terminal illness or a grievous and irremediable medical condition the option of requesting assisted dying".

It's attracted more submissions from the public than any other Bill in New Zealand history. Two previous attempts at legalised assisted dying - one in 1995, the other in 2003 - both failed at the first reading.

Matt Vickers. Photo Credit: The AM Show

Vickers says the End of Life Choice Bill has already "made history" by getting to the select committee process, and the issue won't go away even if it fails at the second or third reading.

"There's always people that are going to suffer at the end of their life. Palliative care does not deal with all suffering - that was a finding in Lecretia's case." 

But National Party leader Simon Bridges, who plans to vote against the Bill, said investing more and doing "a better job" in palliative care is what's needed.

I just believe in the whatever you want to call it - the sanctity, the primacy of life.

"I also worry when you look offshore about what has happened, what some people call the thin end of the wedge - what started very narrow has grown."

It's likely Bridges was referring to Canada, which legalised a form of euthanasia in 2016. Canadian palliative care physician Leonie Herx told The AM Show last week there are already moves to loosen the rules on who's eligible, and New Zealand should "learn from Canada's mistakes".

Vickers said Herx's view reflects her Catholic faith.

Lecretia Seales. Photo credit: Newshub File

"For every Leonie Herx that's out there, there's a dozen other doctors in Canada that are perfectly happy with the way that things are going there."

But he said there is wording in the End of Life Choice Bill which echoes Canada's legislation that could prove problematic - notably the phrase "grievous and irremediable suffering".

I think that the Bill should be tightened up. I think it should be restricted to terminally ill people.

"I want to see the MPs vote for this Bill, but I would like to see them tighten it up as well and make it very clear this is for terminally ill people only."

He said Seymour has been open to changes.

"David has put forward some recommendations to adjust his Bill, and I think he's done that in response to what people have submitted to the committee. There are some on the other side who just won't listen no matter what evidence is presented. But for the most part, it's been a constructive debate."

Prior to Seales' illness, Vickers says he didn't really give euthanasia much thought.

We were focused on living, focused on enjoying life but as she got to the end of her treatment and death was inevitable, she talked about wanting to have this choice.

"I found that confronting and challenging, and it took me a while to understand where she was coming from."

Bridges expects his party to be split about 50-50 in the final vote, in which MPs won't have to follow party lines.

"If history's anything to go by, it'll be close."

Tha AM Show / Newshub reporter Dan Satherly