A husband writes a love letter to the wife who campaigned for death with dignity.
If you have been following the issue of voluntary assisted dying over the past couple of years – including in this magazine – you will have heard of Lecretia Seales. She was a brilliant Wellington lawyer who, diagnosed with terminal brain cancer, went to the High Court to argue for her right to receive her doctor’s help in dying. Her claim was denied, but a media and political campaign for the right to die with dignity was reignited and still burns. A cross-party Health Select Committee is investigating public attitudes to voluntary euthanasia, in response to a petition presented to Parliament by Voluntary Euthanasia Society president and former Labour MP Maryan Street. Act leader David Seymour has drafted an End of Life Choice Bill, which is still in the members’ ballot.
Seales died naturally in June 2015. Now, her widower, Matt Vickers, is publishing his memoir. Lecretia’s Choice tells the story of their relationship, Lecretia’s illness and death and her work to change the law.
In terms of the quality of its writing, Lecretia’s Choice is unremarkable. Vickers’ prose is workmanlike and easy to digest: this is a book to read solely for information. The first half feels like the standard cancer biography, all too horribly familiar to anyone who has had personal contact with the disease. Vickers is unafraid to reveal the unflattering sides of his character: the Matt in the book comes across as immature and self-centred, repeatedly worrying about the effect his wife’s campaigning will have on his reputation. I found myself wishing he had quoted her more, and that I could hear Seales tell more of her story in her own well-reasoned and articulate words.
The strength of Lecretia’s Choice lies in the recounting of Seales’ powerful intellectual response to her own mortality. Her decision to try to fight not just the cancer but also the law that criminalises euthanasia was extraordinary – and if the tens of thousands of submissions to the select committee are anything to go by, may be the catalyst for genuine change.
It is no wonder the New Zealand Herald declared Seales New Zealander of the Year 2015. One of her legacies will be the annual Lecretia Seales Memorial Lecture in Law Reform, the first of which will be delivered by former Prime Minister Sir Geoffrey Palmer on August 29 at Victoria University.
Ultimately, Lecretia’s Choice is a love letter to a woman who, even allowing for Vickers’ natural partiality, sounds like she really was an outstanding person: intelligent, principled and genuinely public-spirited. I agree with Seales: death with dignity is something we all deserve.
LECRETIA’S CHOICE: A STORY OF LOVE, DEATH AND THE LAW, by Matt Vickers (Text, $36.99)
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