Courageous woman who sparked euthanasia debate New Zealander of the Year

By Miriyana Alexander

Lecretia Seales. Photo / Supplied
Lecretia Seales. Photo / Supplied

She was brave and inspiring, sharing something as personal and private as her death for the advancement of a human right.

Instead of spending her last months quietly with family and friends, she spent them in a legal battle - fighting for the right to choose how she died.

EDITORIAL: Dying wish ensures real debate

For that courageous effort, the late Wellington lawyer Lecretia Seales is the Herald's New Zealander of the Year. She died, aged 42, on June 5 from brain cancer. Her death came just days after learning she had been unsuccessful in her High Court bid for the legal right for a doctor to help her end her life. She wanted the right to not die a painful death.

As the result of the debate she prompted, Parliament began the first public inquiry into the issue of medically assisted dying.

Her husband, Matt Vickers, fights on - determined to ensure her personal sacrifice wasn't for nothing.

Her family and friends say Lecretia was a private person. Mr Vickers said she would have found this accolade "over the top, because she was only doing what was right".

But, as her friend Cate Honore Brett writes today, it is utterly fitting.

We also pay tribute to our finalists, Richie McCaw and Steve Hansen; broadcaster Rachel Smalley; spy boss Rebecca Kitteridge; road safety campaigner Sean Roberts; cot death specialist Ed Mitchell; Teina Pora advocate Tim McKinnel; activist architect Julie Stout; Lisa King and Michael Meredith for feeding hungry kids; and Tania Billingsley, who stood up to sexual violence.

Our Sporting Achievement of the Year goes to our wonderful Rugby World Cup-winning All Blacks, who became the first team to win three titles, the last two back-to-back.

Our Business Leader of the Year is IAG chief executive Jacki Johnson. As head of the country's largest insurer, she has been recognised for her leadership and ability to move the company from strength to strength. As a finalist in this year's Deloitte Top 200 executive of the year award, she was described by the judges as a natural leader who had driven a courageous strategy to buy up languishing competitors in a "hard as nails" industry.

This is our 24th New Zealander of the Year Awards. Last year's joint winners were Black Caps captain Brendon McCullum and Mary Quin, who helped convict the terrorist who masterminded her kidnapping.

In 2013, the award went to singer Lorde, teenage golfer Lydia Ko and Man Booker winner Eleanor Catton. Past winners have included Sir Peter Blake, Sir Peter Jackson and slain Good Samaritan Austin Hemmings.

- NZ Herald

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