Assisted Dying

Part of Sale of New Petrol and Diesel Cars and Vans – in the House of Commons at 3:37 pm on 4th July 2019.

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Photo of Norman Lamb Norman Lamb Chair, Science and Technology Committee (Commons) 3:37 pm, 4th July 2019

It was a pleasure to join Nick Boles in applying for this debate. I want to use my time to tell the stories of two constituents. The first is Vonnie Daykin, who has come to Parliament today to hear the debate. She has talked about how she witnessed her uncle and her father die of Parkinson’s and her mother die of motor neurone disease. She says that her mother went through living hell, but ultimately had no choice and was forced to suffer “until the bitter end”.

I also want to spend a little time quoting my constituent, Zoe Marley. Her words deserve to be heard in Parliament, so if I may, I will quote from an email that she sent me. She says:

“In January 2018 my mum Judith Marley was diagnosed with an aggressive cancer…She had nursed her own mother with cancer and had seen numerous ‘bad’
deaths. From the outset, she announced that she would not let the cancer do its worst, but would formulate a plan to escape the terror. No matter how marvellous the palliative care, she didn’t want it.”

That is her right, incidentally.

“She was a very private person;
her death should have been a private affair instead of the circus that it became. On a warm July afternoon in 2018, she took a framed picture of her mum, a bottle of Drambuie and approximately 70 sleeping pills into the garden and in this most cherished place, she proceeded to attempt to take her life.”

After some considerable time, her daughter found her there; she had not died and then started to come round. Zoe was then placed into an impossibly invidious position, not knowing whether to call an ambulance. Her mother had already given her lasting power of attorney and did not want resuscitation—her legal right. Ultimately, however, because of the impossible situation that her daughter was in, she had to call an ambulance. Zoe says:

“Her wishes to stay at home and not be admitted to hospital were my priority as her LPA. But was I technically assisting her suicide? My lack of action could be considered supporting a suicide. I was terrified of the consequences of my inactivity. We waited but no change, the day was cooling down and I wanted her to be comfortable.”

In the end, an ambulance was called, and a doctor also attended.

Zoe writes:

“The doctor was unsympathetic. He said he had spoken to an on-call psychiatrist and that he was within his rights to call the police so they could take her to hospital. He was threatening and arrogant, telling me if Mum died there would be a police investigation and she would have a full autopsy. It all made me sick to my stomach. All this time my beautiful Mum laid outside while my daughter held her hand. I had somehow found myself embroiled with a medical team that had no understanding of how to interpret the law. The doctor called the police and three officers arrived. I have never had the police come to my door. It was demeaning and frightening. Once again I showed them my Mum’s paperwork and begged them to bring her inside. They seemed unsure of what to do, the expression ‘grey area’
was used a lot.”

To answer the point of Martin Vickers, grey areas cause enormous distress, as in this case. Zoe continues:

“After much confusion they insisted they take Mum to hospital. I was now indignant and focused on what Mum wanted. I made it very clear I would obstruct them. I felt everyone was ‘trying to cover their backs’
which meant disregarding my Mum’s wishes.

Finally sanity prevailed, they contacted the A&E manager at our local hospital who realised even if they brought her in, the LPA would stop them from treating her. So finally at 3 am they brought Mum inside.”

Moving on a month, Zoe writes that the

“symptoms from the brain metastasis made their ugly appearance…
The pain in her head was unbearable and the constant vomiting made keeping pain medication down almost impossible…

On Friday the 17th of August, Mum had had enough. She knew only torture lay ahead! That evening she took all the morphine and sleeping pills available to her and by Saturday morning she was dead.

That morning I called an ambulance. My family and I myself felt broken and traumatised. But our ordeal wasn’t over. I was questioned by the police all morning. I was heartbroken, the mental and physical torture I had to witness was now followed by a police interrogation.”

Can we in all conscience put families through this awful trauma? That is the reality of the grey area that currently exists in our law. It is the individual, not the state, who should decide, in a period of terminal illness, whether they want to bring their life to an end. That is why the law should change.