New Zealand Law Society - How dream of pyramid finds gave way to medical ethics

How dream of pyramid finds gave way to medical ethics

How dream of pyramid finds gave way to medical ethics
Catherine Deans

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Health lawyer Catherine Deans decided not to pursue a career in archaeology after realising her dreams of discovering more pyramids in Egypt had already been achieved by others.

"A lot of people got there before me," says Catherine, who was recently promoted to senior solicitor at Claro Law in Christchurch.

Catherine Elizabeth Jane (Catherine) Deans
Entry to law
Graduated LLB (first class honours), BA (Psychology) from Otago University in 2010 and LLB from Toronto University in 2014. Admitted 2011. 
Senior solicitor at Claro Law, Christchurch. 
Speciality area
Health law.

"At high school I always wanted to be an archaeologist, I loved history and classics and almost pursued that at university… I was always interested at archaeological sites when I travelled…

"The Pegasus Scholarship ... will be a fantastic experience..." 

"I imagined it would be a bit more Indiana Jones that the reality was…"

Recently awarded a six-week Pegasus Scholarship, Catherine will be in London from November until mid-January to work in top barristers' chambers undertaking research, attending conferences, writing and reading cases and court visits.

[The Pegasus Scholarship Trust was established in 1987 by the Inner Temple, one of the Inns of Court in London, with the aim of building links between the legal professions of countries who live under the common law system. It is open to three New Zealand litigation lawyers in practice for not more than five years.]

"It will be a fantastic experience in my field of medical, administrative and human rights law…You dive into it, make the most of it and see some top UK barristers on their feet…"

Single, Catherine's older brother is an economist in London – "I'm not sure exactly what it is he does" – and her "little sister" works in marketing for Sony in London.

Her Dad is a business broker and her Mum a nurse. "To some extent the stories Mum would tell us inspired me to get into health law…"

After taking a gap year between high school and university to "see the world, mainly in England" she went to Otago University for "a change of scenery…"

"I wasn't sure where I would go or what I would do but heard from a friend that Otago was the place to be…The law faculty was good and Dunedin was a great place to be a student…

"You're never sure if students are looked on as pests but they are the lifeline of the city as well… I had five fantastic years there…"

Catherine did psychology and law and liked the interplay with forensic psychology and psychiatry in the law and problems arising under the Mental Health Act.

"It was a good crossroads between the personal side of law trying to help people as well as commercial work…

"In health law you are not quite a corporate lawyer and not a family lawyer but something in between… What really interested me are the ethical dilemmas that arise in medical law and despite precedents and case law every ethical dilemma is different…

"The intersection between where does the law stop and morality begin… Is this an ethical, legal or religious question and how can those problems be resolved?"

Catherine followed her interest in health law as a postgraduate student at the University of Toronto and also worked for a human rights law firm in New Delhi, where her role involved exploring avenues to ensure greater access to medicines in developing countries.

"My hobby is running and skiing – that keeps me busy at weekends… I do a few half marathons when they come up but purely social not competitive… I learned to ski at Porter Heights and my favourite ski-field is Treble Cone…

"The last book I read was Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, which was on my reading list for a long time… I have a kindle full of books… US writer and film producer Michael Crichton's medico thriller stories get me interested… But I like anything with a good story…

"Game of Thrones is my favourite TV watch – I've also read the books… The books lost it a bit with characters going in all different ways but it's a great story…

"I watched Breaking Bad recently… And I like British crime dramas because they do them much better than the Americans…

"I know how to read music and played piano when I was younger but with no natural talent and gave that up as a teenager… I like a good beat when running, but have no favourites…

"Embarrassingly, my car is a Honda Jazz, a car old people drive… I inherited it from my grandmother and it still has her rest home permit on it… It's not the coolest but it's a fantastic car, fuel efficient, roomy and I get skis in the boot…

"My first choice of a dinner guest would be Kate Shephard – she gave women everywhere a voice… And David Attenborough – I could listen to him all day long and never get bored…

"And Coco Chanel, given her style and elegance… Hopefully they would all get on… I'm not a very good cook so I would probably cheat and get in some amazing lamb shanks from Pedro's Lamb in Christchurch, with something green on the side…"

She says she can't see herself doing anything other than law. "Medical law is always going to be here… There are always going to be tricky ethical questions…"

"Euthanasia and assisted dying cases are interesting… To what extent does society get into that personal space?"

"If euthanasia or assisted dying and the choices around life and death are going to be managed by society it is something Parliament needs to deal with rather than the court…"

"The Lecretia Seales case was interesting… She was incredibly brave and good on her for bringing the topic to national attention, but it is disappointing that the government did not pick up on it and debate the topic more…

"She put the cornerstone down for that debate…"

[Terminally ill Wellington lawyer and advocate of physician-assisted dying, Ms Seales lost a High Court bid in 2015 to have her doctor assist her death without risking prosecution. She died the day her family received the judge's decision.]

Jock Anderson has been writing and commenting on New Zealand lawyers and New Zealand's courts for most of his career in journalism. Contact Jock at

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