Lecretia Seales never planned to be the poster girl for the right-to-die campaign in New Zealand.

But the 42-year-old Wellington lawyer who died this morning hours after the judgement in her landmark case was released to her family and lawyers, will forever be linked to the euthanasia argument in New Zealand.

Ms Seales had terminal brain cancer and her health had deteriorated rapidly in the past week. She was moved into a hospital bed in her home at the weekend, and was with her family and friends when she passed away.

Although too sick or tired to always watch her case unfold in the High Court at Wellington, she was front and centre of the debate this week as her lawyers argued a doctor should help her die without criminal prosecution.


The Seales family is "shattered" this morning, family spokeswoman Cate Brett told Newstalk ZB.

She was not sure if Ms Seales had been aware of the judgement which was handed to the family at 4pm yesterday.

The family are this morning talking with lawyers to decide whether a press conference will go ahead later today.

"Everyone wants to take their cue from Lecretia and she wouldn't have wanted anyone to take their foot off the accelerator for a moment on this issue," Ms Brett said.

"But as you can appreciate people are exhausted and grieving and will make a decision a little bit later today."

Ms Brett said she didn't know what precedence the case may make, but by simply taking the case Ms Seales had sparked a "national conversation which has reverberated around the world".

"In that sense everyone is just hugely grateful that she got her day in court and was able to be there for it," she said.

The family had received "enormous support" she said, and also praised husband Matt Vickers for providing family, friends and supporters with such an "intimate, moving and intelligent chronology" of the case and Ms Seales' journey.


READ MORE: How the Herald broke the story of Lecretia Seales' right-to-die case

Tributes flowed for Ms Seales this morning with Prime Minister John Key expressing his "deepest sympathies" for the family, friends and supporters of Ms 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," he said.

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

Prime Minister Sir Geoffrey Palmer has also paid tribute to her by praising her as "one of the 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," he said in a statement posted on Ms Seales' blog. "I salute her."


Sir Geoffrey said he was very fond of Lecretia and her husband, Matt Vickers.

"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."

Case watched around the world

Euthanasia campaigner Professor Sean Davison, who was convicted in New Zealand after helping his terminally-ill mother Patricia die, said Ms Seales was "extremely courageous" and her legal struggle would make a lasting contribution.

"This is her gift to her humanity," he said.

Professor Davison, who now lived in Cape Town, said Ms Seales' case was watched closely around the world.

He said "dying with dignity" was a fundamental humanitarian issue. He said the judgement in a similar case in South Africa this year, also involving terminally-ill lawyer Robin Stransham-Ford, was released just hours after Mr Robin Stransham-Ford died.

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".

"I think she held on [for the judgement]" Prof Davison said when reflecting on the timing of Ms Seales' death.

People who woke up to the news of Ms Seales' death have also paid tribute to her on Facebook. "Lecretia made a huge impact in law reform in New Zealand and was a quiet huge achiever," Andrew Galloway wrote. "It is tragic that she has passed and my sympathy and condolences to the family. She will continue to make a difference with the legacy she has left."

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

"Outside her brilliant career, Lecretia provided an important voice on bodily autonomy, willingly surrendering her privacy to prompt a public debate that will most definitely continue. Thank you, and rest well, Lecretia," Jane Turner posted online.

"You fought a good fight and touched so many lives. Hoping for a good outcome this afternoon on your behalf," Hellen Kaye McGregor wrote.

"What a brave, inspiring woman," Linda Bennett wrote.

Judgement to be public

During the case at the High Court, and in discussions preceding it, it became clear even some members of groups opposed to euthanasia respected Ms Seales.


Although the case was controversial and raised potentially divisive social policy issues, there was little or no rancour even in the legal wrangles leading up to the trial.

Family spokeswoman Cate Brett said Ms Seales would have been delighted to have lived long enough to have her day in court. "Lecretia makes a very strong case for herself and people like her," Ms Brett told Paul Henry this morning.

She said Ms Seales' efforts would create a "landmark human rights case" regardless of the judgement.

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

Ms Seales was expected to receive a full judgement from Justice David Collins today.
Mr Vickers announced the decision would be available to the public at 3pm.

A press conference was scheduled for Ms Seales' lawyer's office at 3.30pm, where Mr Vickers was expected to deliver a statement and take questions from media.


Her family are considering whether or not to proceed with the conference at this time and will confirm their decision later today.

Leading the way

Diagnosed in 2011 with an aggressive brain tumour, Ms Seales fought the debilitating illness for years and never considered the right-to-die campaign.

"Not until that Brittany Maynard Facebook thing came up," Ms Seales said in previously unreported comments from an interview with the Weekend Herald .

"A couple of friends said to me, 'You could do something about that,' and I said, 'Yes, I could.' And I think it's right."

Also suffering from brain cancer, Maynard's decision to publicise her death in the United States went viral online last year with millions of people reading her story.

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

The 29-year-old "changed the optics of the debate", according to Arthur Caplan of the division of medical ethics at New York University, because she was "young, vivacious, attractive ... and a very different kind of person" from the elderly patients who normally seek physician-assisted death.


Sound familiar?

Ms Seales' case has been a lightning rod for the pro- and anti-euthanasia camps, with some lobby groups successfully intervening into the case to have their voice heard, too.

The 42-year-old's case relies on provisions in the Bill of Rights Act enshrining the rights not to be deprived of life or subjected to cruel treatment.

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."

Not that Ms Seales definitely would end her life if successful in court.


"I want the right to choose. That would give me comfort if I knew that was there," she said in March.

"I don't know whether I necessarily would, because I'm certainly not suffering intolerably now ... But things are only going to get worse."

She said 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."

Deteriorating condition

Ms Seales was a senior legal and policy adviser at the Law Commission.

Her illness caused gradual paralysis, and she lost the ability to move her hand, arm, leg and also her eyesight on the left side of her body.

The tumour rendered her incapable of watching the whole of her case unfold in the High Court at Wellington.


Just as the trial ended, it became clear how sick Ms Seales was. Her husband wrote of her deteriorating condition.

"Lecretia is not well. Her eyes are closed most of the time. She is having trouble swallowing. She is talking less and less."

By late May, paralysis spread to her entire body, leaving her "rigid as a plank," Mr Vickers wrote.

A hospital bed was delivered, with some difficulty, to the couple's home. This meant Ms Seales did not have to be moved to a hospice, which was against her wishes.

"Lecretia's choice is imminent, and we don't know yet if she will get to make it," Mr Vickers wrote.

"She's been through a few things already that she would rather not have had to go through, but she has taken all of this in her stride and with as much grace and dignity as she can muster."


Mr Vickers said while he did not know whether his wife would choose to die if the court ruled she could, "for Lecretia, it was always having the choice that mattered, not the choice itself."

Her case made waves abroad, with commentators and media in Australia watching the case closely. In one of her last interviews, Ms Seales told ABC how she planned to make her final decision. "I would die at home, I would have had a lovely meal and I would have my family and my husband and my cat around me.

Asked when this might happen, she responded: "When? When I felt that my state was unbearable or when I couldn't recognise people who I love, you know. If I lose my mental faculties, I don't want to be alive because that's not who I am."

The volatility and variability of brain tumours made it hard to predict Ms Seales' life expectancy.

In early April 2015, Ms Seales' oncologist estimated she could expect to live anywhere between three and 18 months.

Narrow case

Although many people today have spoken of Ms Seales setting a precedent, her lawyers were at pains to point out the case was specifically about her, not an attempt to legalise widespread euthanasia.


Lawyer Dr Andrew Butler said before last month's trial the case was "discreet and narrow" and would not trigger the snowball effect some other parties suggested."We've heard about the fears that old people are going to be bumped off," Dr Butler said.

Before the trial, Justice David Collins acknowledged the broad interest in the case.

"I am satisfied that health professionals, particularly those involved in the practice of palliative medicine have a direct interest in Ms Seales' proceeding even though Ms Seales' proceeding does not seek to compel any health professional to act against his or her will."

The judge explained the context in which Ms Seales found herself fighting for the right to die.

"Ms Seales' brain tumour was diagnosed in March 2011. Since then Ms Seales has undergone surgery, courses of chemotherapy and radiation therapy.

"Despite this treatment Ms Seales' oncologist is confident her tumour is inoperable and that while further treatment may temporarily halt or even slow progression of the brain tumour, it will ultimately cause Ms Seales' death," he wrote in a judgement.


"Ms Seales is a highly intelligent woman, who has to date lived a very satisfying and fulfilling life. She is a well regarded and successful lawyer, who has enthusiastically pursued passions beyond her career. For example, Ms Seales has studied four additional languages, learnt dancing (tango) and acquired a range of culinary skills. Most importantly, Ms Seales has a close and loving relationship with her husband and family members.

"Throughout her life Ms Seales has been a fiercely independent and rational person. These traits are still very evident in Ms Seales' explanation that she intends to live every day as best she can. Ms Seales does not seek pity from others and she is committed to maintaining a positive and constructive approach to her circumstances."