When Lecretia Seales was 6 she almost died.

An infection attacked a bone in her leg, shooting pain through her body so intense she couldn't bear even a sheet touching her leg.

The eldest of Shirley and Larry Seales' three children never complained.

Three decades later, Seales, by now a high-achieving Wellington lawyer, began suffering excruciating headaches and losing her vision. She was afraid she had a brain tumour, her mum told the Herald on Sunday yesterday.

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But she was the same tough cookie who impressed the nurses at her bedside all those years earlier, and it was three months before her daughter saw a specialist, Shirley Seales said.

"I said I would try to get her into Tauranga [where I live]. She said 'Mum, obviously I'm not as bad as other people. I just have to wait my turn'."

It was a brain tumour, and 41-year-old Seales has since been told her cancer is terminal.

The prognosis is dire, but Shirley Seales says her daughter doesn't want pity -- she wants change.

The senior legal and policy adviser at the Law Commission made New Zealand history on Friday when she filed a statement of claim in the High Court seeking a ruling to determine whether her doctor could lawfully administer a lethal dose of drugs.

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Seales isn't surprised her daughter wants to spend the end of her life fighting for a right that she probably won't live long enough to benefit from.

"She doesn't expect there will be change in her lifetime but she wants to help others coming behind her in a similar situation. She makes us all so proud."

Assisting suicide is punishable by up to 14 years' jail but Seales' case relies on provisions in the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act that protect the rights to not be deprived of life or subjected to cruel treatment.

If the bid is successful, it would allow the doctor to euthanise Seales because of her specific circumstances and would not set a precedent.

But a favourable High Court ruling would allow others to follow suit and potentially send a signal to Parliament for further law reform.

Her family supported Seales 100 per cent, her mum said.

"She is a very kind, very giving and considered person who doesn't do things without thinking them through. I guess people would say 'why would you give your energy for something like this when you don't have a lot of energy to give'. But she's passionate about wanting to make a change."

Shirley Seales watched her own father "die a most awful lingering death. He was like an animal moaning. I think anybody who is opposed to it has never actually been in the situation. You just don't want to see somebody you love suffer."

The assistant bishop of Auckland, the right Reverend Jim White, had also seen needless suffering.

He was disappointed former Labour MP's Maryan Street removed her voluntary euthanasia bill from the private member's bill ballot in 2013. "If it had gone to select committee we might have had a chance to talk about it."

Seales has written to Prime Minister John Key, whom she knows after working in the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, about her challenge.

Last night he would not comment on her legal bid, a spokesman saying only: "The Prime Minister is aware of Ms Seales' illness and his thoughts are with her at this difficult time."