Leaving Everything on the Field

What’s worth doing even if you fail? -Brené Brown

As a friend, Lecretia Anne Seales was just the sort of friend you want to have.1 As a lawyer, Lecretia was known for her “accuracy, her judgment, and her discretion.”2 Her resume is impressive. She worked for Kensington Swan, Chen Palmer & Partners, the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet of New Zealand, and the New Zealand Law Commission, where she was a Senior Legal & Policy Adviser. Her colleagues say she is industrious and those closer to her say she is a workaholic.

She was in her late 30s when she was diagnosed with brain cancer. From 2011 until 2014, Lecretia fought the tumor valiantly with surgery, radio therapy and chemotherapy. “In January 2015, Lecretia’s health entered a decline despite her treatments and she came to the end of her options for treating the cancer effectively.”3

“She began to review her end-of-life alternatives. She discovered that if she is very lucky, she might die quickly, but that the more likely outcome was that she would have to undergo a drawn out, undignified death, after losing her mental faculties and all quality of life. Her other alternative is a violent, lonely and traumatic suicide at her own hand, which would rob her of a few precious weeks or months of life that would be worth living.”4

Lecretia believed there should be a gentler, more compassionate way. She wanted the choice to receive a physician’s help to end her life no sooner than the point that she determined she had no quality of life, and before she entered a long, pointless and wasteful period of suffering prior to her death.5

Unfortunately, medically-assisted dying was considered a crime under New Zealand law. Lecretia decided to seek a court judgment finding that New Zealand’s Bill of Rights provided that she not be subjected to the unnecessary suffering of a long, cruel death.

There is plenty of debate surrounding dignity in death which you may go elsewhere to read. The focus here is Lecretia’s decision to work within the courts and legislature to fight for “free will and autonomy over her own life; the ability to decide how she lived it and how it ends.”6

The focus here is Lecretia’s desire “to turn her experience into a law reform project” 7 so that her struggle would be about more than just her. The last work of her life was for others to have the right to make their own decisions about how they live and how they die.

Before the Court made its final ruling in her case, Lecretia died. The final ruling held that physicians who assisted patients to end their life were subject to criminal prosecution.

The surprise for me while writing about nobility each week is the struggle to reduce someone’s nobility into a describable act or acts. Here, for example, Lecretia’s decision to work within the legal system seems noble. She could have abandoned all civility and encouraged rogue actions from her family and followers. She didn’t. Her choice to frame her case so that it would help others seems noble. She might have had a better chance in her personal legal case if she had framed it in such that her particular situation was unique; that her case was extraordinary in some way. She chose instead to work for others.

What seems most noble was Lecretia’s resolve to give wholeheartedly to one idea that helped others. Consider this quote from U.S. Senator Charles Sumner:

Every discoverer, every inventor, every poet, every artist, every orator, every general, every statesman is absorbed in his work, and he succeeds just in proportion as for the time it becomes his one idea.

Unlike many of us, Lecretia’s body reminded her, moment by moment, that her days were limited. Her time with her family was limited. Her time with the husband that she loved was limited. Even so, she wholly committed to her one idea, her one great idea was liberty for herself – and others.

And there are those who concluded that Lecretia failed because a court ruled against her. This illustrates another theme running through a cast of noble characters. Nobility embraces that it is only entitled to its work – not the result. At the end of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s life, minorities were still not treated equitably. At the end of Mother Teresa’s life, there were sick without treatment and hunger without food. But their one idea fueled by the passion of their life continues to serve.

Lecretia was thankful that her struggle stirred a “robust and civil discourse which, though spirited, didn’t once descend into the personal.” She “was delighted to find [herself] in the midst of a mature and passionate debate, even as [she] vigorously disagreed on most things.”8 That passionate debate has given birth to a petition, signed by thousands, demanding that Parliament enact legislation reflecting public attitudes toward medically-assisted dying. An End Of Life Choice Bill has been presented for Parliament to consider.

As for me, I don’t want my tombstone to read, “he was really saving up for something big.” And so the challenge is, “What’s worth doing even if you fail?” And if you are not doing that one thing, “why not?”

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  1.  ©2015 Brandon L. Blankenship, Image Credit: Thank you to Lecretia’s husband, Matt Vickers, for giving permission to use this image. I rarely use the image of the actual subject of these stories but for some reason it seemed disingenuous to use anything less for someone so genuine as Lecretia.
  2. www.lecretia.org, June 5, 2015 post quoting Sir Geoffrey Palmer, 33rd Prime Minister of New Zealand and legendary law reformer (retrieved 30OCT2015).
  3. www.lecretia.org/about/ (retrieved 1NOV2015).
  4. Supra.
  5. Supra.
  6. www.lecretia.org, May 31, 2015 post (retrieved 3NOV2015).
  7. www.lecretia.org, June 5, 2015 post (retrieved 2NOV2015).
  8. www.lecretia.org, June 5, 2015 post (retrieved 2NOV2015).
About The Author

Brandon Blankenship

Brandon L. Blankenship is a continuing legal education presenter and business educator. He is the author of Unmasking Hour. He writes weekly posts on the legal industry and is a contributor to the Nobility Academy. He and his wife Donnalee live on their hobby farm south of Birmingham, Alabama.