Lecretia Seales was unsuccessful in seeking a landmark High Court ruling to allow her doctor to help her die without criminal prosecution.

Ms Seales died of natural causes at 12.35am this morning, after her family and lawyers received the ruling.

SCROLL TO END OF ARTICLE TO READ FULL JUDGEMENT

Her husband, Matt Vickers, said today he would miss her terribly and revealed how she reacted to the judge's decision.

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"On Tuesday night I relayed Justice Collins' decision to Lecretia. I explained she would not be able to seek assistance to die, and nature would need to run its course, and that her mother and I would do everything we could to make her comfortable and pain free.

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"Lecretia listened to me as I explained the decision. Even though she couldn't speak, she was able to share her feelings through her expression. There was no mistaking her response.

"She was hurt and disappointed. She fixed me with a stare with her good eye as if to say, 'isn't this my body? My life? Her breath slowed and she turned her head away. Her reaction utterly broke my heart."

Mr Vickers said the judgment was not what they wanted, but did make it clear that the law is "paternalistic, overly-protective and rooted in the past".

He said Parliament had to work across party lines to ensure the issue reached select committee stage. That would enable the facts and overseas evidence to be properly examined and debated.

"We must respect the autonomy and dignity of terminally ill people like Lecretia and say, 'yes, we respect your wish to go your way'. Anything else is paternalistic. Anything else says, 'I know better than you'.
"I implore our Prime Minister, who only two weeks ago said publicly that he would welcome a debate, to actually initiate that debate and to not defer it and wait for a private member's bill, which may not see it debated for months or years.

"This debate needs to happen now. Prime Minister, I urge you to give the public what they want and start the debate. I urge you to follow my wife's example and to be a courageous leader...let us give Lecretia her legacy."

Justice David Collins released his judgment at 3pm. It rejected Ms Seales' bid and said only Parliament could give her what she wanted.

"The complex legal, philosophical, moral and clinical issues raised by Ms Seales' proceedings can only be addressed by Parliament passing legislation to amend the effect of the Crimes Act.

"Although Ms Seales has not obtained the outcomes she sought, she has selflessly provided a forum to clarify important aspects of New Zealand law.

"I appreciate Parliament has shown little desire to engage in these issues. The three private members' bills that have attempted to address the broad issues raised by Ms Seales' proceeding gained little legislative traction.

"However, the fact that Parliament has not been willing to address the issues raised by Ms Seales' proceedings does not provide me with a licence to depart from the constitutional role of judges in New Zealand."

Front and centre

Her legal team, led by Dr Andrew Butler, also argued that denying lawful access to physician assisted death amounted to a breach of Ms Seales' rights and fundamental freedoms under the New Zealand Bill of Rights.

Opposing the bid on behalf of the Crown was Solicitor-General Mike Heron, QC, who told the court the issue was controversial, unethical and not permissible within the law.

"The current law applies to all. Its purpose is to protect the sanctity of life and the vulnerable."

Although too sick or tired to always watch her case unfold in the High Court at Wellington last week, Ms Seales was front and centre of the debate.

Lecretia Seales' father, Larry, left, and husband, Matt Vickers, on their way to the High Court in Wellington last month. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Lecretia Seales' father, Larry, left, and husband, Matt Vickers, on their way to the High Court in Wellington last month. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Ms 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 have been caring for Ms Seales supported by Mary Potter Hospice and the Capital & Coast DHB district nursing team.

Her death has been met with many tributes, including the Prime Minister John Key, for whom she worked as a legal adviser.

Former PM Sir Geoffrey Palmer praising Lecretia as
Former PM Sir Geoffrey Palmer praising Lecretia as "one of the finest human beings I have ever met".

Regardless of the result of the ruling, Ms Seales previously told the Herald she would be proud if her court case prompted wider legislative change. "I'm reasonably confident that I won't be able to see it through to the end. But if I can get it started, that would make me happy."

A private member's bill by then Labour MP Maryan Street sat in the ballot box for 18 months before being withdrawn late in 2013 after a lack of support from her colleagues.

The End of Life Choice Bill would have allowed certain New Zealand residents aged 18 or over, such as those with a terminal disease or physical or mental condition that makes life unbearable, to have assistance to die.

The Voluntary Euthanasia Society of New Zealand branded the ruling "pretty conservative and narrow".

"It's completely obvious to most people that the aid in dying sought by Lecretia Seales was not murder or [assisted] suicide," Dr Jack Havill, president of the society said, criticising the judge for ruling her request was not in line with New Zealand's laws.

"I think he could have been a bit braver."

However, Dr Havill said the society agreed with Justice Collins that the issue should be put before Parliament.

"It really needs to go to Parliament and a proper law passed, and that's what we've been trying to do for 45 years," he said.

"We've got a petition going to Parliament calling for a select committee [on the matter] so it can be discussed."

But the work done by Ms Seales and her legal team in creating a national conversation on the issue of euthanasia would pave the way for campaigners, he said.

How the Herald broke the story of Lecretia Seales' fight.
How the Herald broke the story of Lecretia Seales' fight.

"I think Lecretia left a great legacy for New Zealand, and we can go from there," he said, offering his condolences to her family.

The Care Alliance, which is opposed to euthanasia, also agreed with Justice Collins that any law change needed to come from Parliament.

However, it said it would not be celebrating today's decision.

"Today I don't think anybody is happy. The very first thing today is to express our condolences to the family and friends of Ms Seales who have lost someone they loved very much," spokesman Matthew Jansen said.

"In terms of the court case, again, I don't think it's a matter of being satisfied because at the end of the day nether medicine nor the law could cure Ms Seales from her brain tumour, which is really what all of us really would have wanted."

Mr Jansen added: "It really is a day to hold the family and friends of Lecretia in our thoughts."

Pro-life group Right to Life said it welcomed the decision.

"The judgment is good news for the whole community especially the most vulnerable, the elderly, the disabled and the seriously ill," the group said in a statement.

"The judgment has confirmed that the Crimes Act is not incompatible with the Bill of Rights and that only Parliament can change the law to allow the strong to kill the weak. The laws prohibiting assisted suicide and homicide are there to protect the vulnerable, we change them at our peril."

The group called on Labour not to go ahead with its plan to bring the End of Life Choice Bill before Parliament.

"Right to Life welcomes the Court's reaffirmation of the inalienable right to life of every human being from conception to natural death and the sanctity of all human life," it continued, adding its condolences to Ms Seales' family.

"Her passing is a great loss to the legal fraternity and to the community, she has endured her sufferings with great dignity."

Support for euthanasia

Iain Lees-Galloway took over the bill when Ms Street lost her list seat in the last election, but was told to drop it last December by new Labour leader Andrew Little.

When a petition by the End of Life Choice Society closes on June 20, Mr Lees-Galloway will table it at the first opportunity in Parliament, and the petition will go to a select committee.

"Our view is that that should trigger a wide-ranging inquiry into the issues of end-of-life choice, so that Parliament can progress it with a bipartisan approach," Mr Lees-Galloway told the Herald today.

"A number of people have been working on this for a while, but there is no doubt that Lecretia's bravery has created the public conversation that has given MPs the confidence they need to address this issue."

Prime Minister John Key has previously said he supports voluntary euthanasia under limited circumstances, but believed Ms Street's bill went too far.

Lecretia Seales: The judgement in full

Family's statement in full

We are naturally very disappointed with Justice Collins' judgment. He found in our favour in relation to the evidence before him, but his interpretation of the purpose of the law meant he could not find aid in dying was available to Lecretia or inconsistent with the Bill of Rights.

Justice Collins found that while palliative care had made great advances, it was not able relieve all suffering, including for pain and psychological and emotional suffering. He emphasised the importance of individual autonomy and dignity.

He found that Lecretia was not vulnerable and that her wish to have access to assisted dying "was a rational and intellectually rigorous response to her circumstances". He said it was important to ensure doctors did not make a decision based on their assumptions about people's vulnerability as this would devalue respect for individual autonomy.

He found that without assisted dying Lecretia was put at risk of premature death, for fear that she would be incapable of doing so when her condition deteriorated, which engaged her right to life. He accepted evidence that, under the status quo, others who are terminally ill have taken their lives prematurely while they are still able to.

Yet despite these finding, and acknowledgement of the potential suffering and risk of early death for those with a terminal illness, Justice Collins felt unable to grant the declarations Lecretia sought.

A core reason was that, in his view, the provisions under the Crimes Act required protection of not only the vulnerable, but even for people like Lecretia, who are not vulnerable, and whose wish for assisted dying was a rational response to their terminal illness and potential suffering. He did so, based on his understanding of the New Zealand case law and notwithstanding that that approach to the law is not shared in jurisdictions including the UK, Canada and South Africa. For us, as a family, it is terribly disappointing that the Judge was prepared to go as far as he did but not take this last step.

The judgment has starkly highlighted that the status quo is not ideal; that people are at risk of intolerable suffering and are at risk of ending their lives earlier than they would otherwise. Justice Collins was clear that it is for Parliament to address these issues.

So as a family, we would address ourselves to the politicians. The public reaction to Lecretia's case has been huge. It is clear beyond doubt that people want to debate this issue regardless of their personal position. The debate needs to happen. The time is now.

Let us give Lecretia her legacy.