Lecretia Seales died at home in Wellington on 5 June 2015. She died just hours after her family and lawyers had received the full judgment in the action she had taken in the High Court for a declaratory judgment which would have upheld her right to die at the time of her choosing.
Ms Seales was admitted as a barrister and solicitor of the High Court on 12 September 1997 and quickly became known as a highly competent and gifted lawyer. She worked at Kensington Swan, in the United Kingdom, and, on her return to New Zealand, with Chen & Palmer in Wellington before moving to the Law Commission. After secondment for a time to the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet she returned to the Law Commission.
She was diagnosed with in inoperable brain tumour in 2011. In 2015 as her condition worsened, she filed a statement of claim in the High Court which sought a declaratory judgment to uphold her right to die at the time of her choosing. In a public statement released at the time she outlined clearly the reasons behind her action. Saying that while she fully supported the need for legal protections for the vulnerable, ensuring they are not induced to take their lives, she said she did not believe such protections should be so draconian as to prevent her, and others in her situation, from exercising their fundamental human rights:
"I am the one who has been inflicted with this disease, no one else. It is my life that has been cut short. So who else but me should have the authority to decide if and when the disease and its effects are so intolerable that I would prefer to die?
"I am not saying that I will necessarily choose to exercise this right, and nor for one moment am I suggesting others in my position should be asked to make such a choice.
"I am simply saying that I, Lecretia Seales, a human being confronted with the inescapable reality of my death, and the prospect of great suffering – for me and those who love me – must have the right to determine when I have reached the end of the road. This right belongs to me and none other."
The pending proceedings received massive media coverage and Ms Seales' actions, although not successful in the High Court, have reactivated a public debate over the right to choose to die. It now appears likely that the matter will again come before Parliament and her courageous fight to assert what she saw as her legal right may ultimately have the outcome she sought.
The following tribute from Sir Geoffrey Palmer QC was released by her husband Matt Vickers on 5 June on the blog Lecretia's Choice. It was written before her death.
"I have known Lecretia for many years from the time she first came to work at Chen & Palmer after working as a lawyer in the UK. She was by then a seasoned lawyer having cut her teeth at Kensington Swan before taking her OE. I am not an easy person to work with, as I am impatient and demanding. I soon found that Lecretia was incredibly industrious and not to put to fine a point on it, a workaholic. I found her easy to work with and I came to trust her accuracy, her judgment, and her discretion. She is my kind of public lawyer.
"Later when I went to the Law Commission she applied for a job there and was top of the field and selected. She made a wonderful contribution at the Commission and worked directly to me on several important projects including alcohol and war pensions both of which reached the statute books. Her terrier like qualities in running down the meaning of words in old statutes was awe inspiring. I recall particularly her work on section 17 of the War Pensions Act 1954. I did not believe it was possible to say what that provision meant, but after three weeks Lecretia figured it out. All the administrative law work on the alcohol project was hers.
"Lecretia became not only my professional colleague but also my friend. I recall Matt and Lecretia visited us in Nelson and said they were going to get married. What a wonderful couple. A little much wine was drunk that night. Lecretia is an incredibly private person. She never sought the spotlight. And she is extraordinarily taciturn. But deep down there is a person of great compassion, empathy and judgment. Lecretia has got to be one of finest human beings I have ever met. When her sickness struck she bore it with a fortitude and steadfastness that was amazing. 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."