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Pro bono for Lecretia Seales

Home Insights Pro bono for Lecretia Seales

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Contributed by: Andrew Butler and Catherine Marks

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Published on: April 03, 2016

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One of Russell McVeagh’s most high profile pro bono cases was that of Lecretia Seales, a young woman in the prime of her career who was diagnosed with brain cancer. Lecretia was a lawyer based in Wellington, who in January 2015 came to the end of her options for treating her cancer effectively. She began to review her end-of-life alternatives, where she discovered that if she was lucky she might die quickly, but that the more likely outcome was that she would have to undergo a drawn out and undignified death, after losing her mental faculties and all quality of life. Lecretia believed that there should be a gentler, more dignified way to go. Together with her husband Matt, they wanted her to have the choice to receive physician-assisted death to bring about her demise, when she felt she'd reached the point where she had no quality of life.

On 20 March 2015, Russell McVeagh Partner, Andrew Butler and his team filed a statement of claim with the High Court of New Zealand, arguing her GP should not be prosecuted under the Crimes Act 1961 in assisting with her death, with Lecretia’s consent. Lecretia’s wish was to be able to die at a time of her choosing, surrounded by her loved ones. The urgent litigation involved a significant and largely pro bono commitment on our behalf, including arguing interlocutory applications, preparing some 33 witness statements, over a hundred pages of legal submissions, and conducting a three-day hearing in the High Court, all in just over two months.

While Lecretia lived just long enough to learn that she would not be granted the relief she sought, her proceeding attracted widespread public support and started a national conversation on assisted dying that continues, with both a private bill in the House and before New Zealand Parliament’s Health Select Committee. The Russell McVeagh team helped prepare a submission on behalf of ‘Lecretia's Legacy’ to the Select Committee emphasising the need for evidence-based decision-making in this complex area. The team continues to assist in the wider effort for law reform. 

Lecretia hoped that others in similar situations would one day be able to make their own decisions about how they live and die, and to have the choice that she was denied. Her courage and commitment remains an inspiration to that effort, both locally and globally.

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