Tributes flow for right-to-die campaigner Lecretia Seales, who died of natural causes

Lecretia Seales, seen with her husband Matt Vickers in 2009, passed away early Friday.
Kevin Stent

Lecretia Seales, seen with her husband Matt Vickers in 2009, passed away early Friday.

Prime Minister John Key is among those who have paid tribute to Lecretia Seales, the 42-year-old Wellington lawyer with terminal brain cancer who died early on Friday from natural causes.

Key expressed his deepest sympathies to the family, friends and supporters of Seales.

"Cancer is a terrible disease for those who suffer it and it's particularly hard on those who witness their loved ones eventually succumb to it," Key said.

"My heart goes out to Lecretia's family and friends."

Seale's husband, Matt Vickers, planned to read a prepared statement and answer questions at a press conference at Wellington law firm Russell McVeagh at 3.30pm on Friday.

Seales' death came just hours after a judge issued a ruling in her landmark right-to-die case. Justice David Collins has embargoed his judgment until 3pm on Friday.

The family of Wellington lawyer Lecretia Seales' will not appeal the decision to deny her the right to die at the time ...

The family of Wellington lawyer Lecretia Seales' will not appeal the decision to deny her the right to die at the time of her choosing with help from a her doctor.

Seales was a beautiful, courageous, compassionate, unsentimental person who would want everyone to "press on", her friend and colleague Cate Brett said.

Seales came to court twice during the three-day hearing that began on May 25. Since then she had rapidly declined, becoming bedridden due to paralysis and spending periods in deep sleep.

She did not have the long, painful death she feared. 

Should Kiwis have the right to die with 'dignity'?

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At about 11.30pm on Thursday Seales began having respiratory problems and died at about 12.35am on Friday from natural causes.

Even two days ago Seales was able to say hello on the telephone to Brett.

Seales was kept abreast of developments in her case, but it was not clear whether she was aware of the judgment issued to lawyers at 3pm on Thursday and notified to family at 4pm.

Seales had been seeking a declaration that her doctor would not risk prosecution if she were to assist Seales to end her life, in the event that her final days became unbearable to her.

Lawyers Andrew Butler, Chris Curran and Catherine Marks had argued that denying their client lawful access to physician-assisted death amounted to a breach of Seales' rights and fundamental freedoms under the New Zealand Bill of Rights.

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Everyone was relieved Seales had her day in court and got to make her point in public.

She and her husband were intensely private but had been richly rewarded for their decision to speak out, Brett said.

Death of Lecretia Seales may inspire Parliament to take up issue of voluntary euthanasia
* California Senate approves physician-assisted suicide bill
Lecretia  Seales lived with passion, determination and autonomy
Geoffrey Palmer's tribute to  Lecretia  Seales


Euthanasia campaigner Lesley Martin, who was convicted of attempting to murder her dying mother with an overdose of morphine in 1999, said Seales made an important stand.

"We all have the right to self-autonomy in our dying - it is our life and it is our choice and Lecretia made a very strong case for that and should be applauded and appreciated for spending her precious time and energy on this," Martin told the Paul Henry Show.

Carole Sweney from the Voluntary Euthanasia Society said Seales "put everything she had" into her fight.

"I think Lecretia's a hero, really," Sweney said on the Paul Henry Show.

Prominent lawyer Mai Chen said she last saw her on 10 February for 20th anniversary of her firm Chen Palmer, where Seales worked for over six years.

"I had made a special effort to invite her as we had been in contact by email before Christmas and I had sent her photos of my family in South America over the Christmas holidays so she could see how much [Chen's son] Jack had grown."

"She had always wanted to have a baby and since I had struggled to have my own son, he was always something we talked about, so it was nice for her to be able to see Jack at our celebrations in the Grand Hall in Parliament.

"I reflected this morning that Lecretia never achieved her dream of having a child, but she did give birth to law reform. That is her professional legacy although it is her kindness that most will remember her for, expressed through baking when she was still well, and a listening ear."

Former Prime Minister Sir Geoffrey Palmer said she was "my kind of public lawyer".

"She always thinks of others first. She never complains. I salute her."


Seales, who had worked for law firm Chen Palmer, the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet and as a leading law reformer, was diagnosed with a terminal brain tumour in 2011.

The tumour had already colonised a quarter of her brain, and she was given just weeks to live.

She underwent surgery to "prune" the tumour, and also has radiating therapy to control its growth.

Surgery bought her several more years but a recent MRI showed the tumour was advancing.

Seales became increasingly paralysed over the past week and was moved into a hospital bed in her home on the weekend.

Since then her husband Matt Vickers and mother Shirley Seales had been caring for Seales, supported by Mary Potter Hospice and the Capital & Coast DHB district nursing team.

Seales had said she fully supported the need for legal protections for the vulnerable, so they were not influenced to take their lives.

But preventing her, and others in her situation, from exercising their fundamental human rights was draconian.

"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?"

Seales' battle was reminiscent of terminally-ill woman Brittany Maynard, who ended her own life at home in Portland, in the US state of Oregon, on November  1  2014. 

The 29-year-old made plans to die on her own terms, in the process becoming the public face of the right-to-die movement. 

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