Weekend Herald

‘ I had done the right thing for my mother’

Emma Rus­sell speaks to for­mer Whanganui nurse Les­ley Martin, who went to jail for the at­tempted mur­der of her ter­mi­nally ill mother in 2004

- Society · Prison · Crime · Wellington, New Zealand · England · Herefordshire · Hereford

As Les­ley Martin sat in a cold dark prison cell, she re­flected on whether help­ing her mum die was the right de­ci­sion.

It was May 28, 2004 — or as she re­mem­bers it, the fifth an­niver­sary of her “beau­ti­ful, hu­mor­ous and warm-lov­ing” mum’s death.

More than 170km away from Welling­ton’s Aro­hata Women’s Prison, a the­atri­cal ver­sion of her book To Die Like a Dog was be­ing per­formed in her home­town Whanganui.

Martin’s book was about her rea­sons for help­ing her ter­mi­nally ill mother Joy die with 60mg of mor­phine. The book led po­lice to open a homi­cide in­quiry into Joy Martin’s death, which even­tu­ally re­sulted in Les­ley Martin be­ing sen­tenced to 15 months in prison. She served seven and half months be­fore re­lease.

Martin says she knew her book could lead to jail, but says prison didn’t scare her as much as know­ing some­one could die a cruel and painful death. Dur­ing the the­atri­cal per­for­mance, two can­dles were lit — one for Martin and an­other for her mum. It was the only time the book was acted out in a play.

“I knew the play was be­ing per­formed that night and I was at my low­est then,” Martin told the Week­end Her­ald in a phone in­ter­view from her home in Here­ford, Eng­land.

“I re­ally deeply soul searched to find whether I had any re­morse or any thought ‘ had I done the wrong thing’, ‘ did I de­serve to be in prison’ and I kept com­ing to the con­clu­sion, morally I had done the right thing for my mother.” More than 16 years later Martin says she still “with all my heart” be­lieves that.

The now 57- year- old says she will be vot­ing “yes, with­out a doubt” in sup­port of the End of Life Choice Act ref­er­en­dum. If a ma­jor­ity vote in favour, vol­un­tary eu­thana­sia will be le­gal af­ter Oc­to­ber next year.

“This is long over­due, it’s a nat­u­ral pro­gres­sion of the so­cial re­form and it’s im­por­tant that New Zealan­ders have their say at grass­roots level be­cause it is an is­sue that af­fects each one of us.” Martin though was crit­i­cal of the leg­is­la­tion for a lack of sup­port and in­for­ma­tion avail­able to pa­tients and their fam­i­lies.

“I per­son­ally have al­ways said there should be ‘ dig­nity havens’ that were sep­a­rate from hospice. If this act does be­come le­gal it will be a mess.”

The havens would have spec­i­fied doc­tors will­ing to as­sist pa­tients with dy­ing, as well as sup­port and coun­selling to avoid peo­ple be­ing pres­sured, Martin said.

She said that for her, 20 years ago, there was no sup­port. “I re­mem­ber my lawyer telling me not to talk to any­one but her. I went to a priest and he wouldn’t even talk to me. I couldn’t be­lieve it, it re­ally hurt.”

If the pro­posed law was in force back in 1999, Joy Martin would have been el­i­gi­ble for as­sist­ing dy­ing.

At the time, the 69- year- old was dy­ing of bowel cancer, a “hor­ri­ble dis­ease” that had al­ready claimed Joy Martin’s mother — Les­ley’s grand­mother.

Martin said from the time Joy had surgery in Jan­uary 1999 to the day of her death on May 28, 1999 she lost 40kg.

“She never stepped a foot out­side the house again once she came home from hos­pi­tal be­cause she nearly died af­ter surgery from mul­ti­ple- or­gan fail­ure. She was ven­ti­lated and on life sup­port and we thought we were go­ing to lose her back then.”

Martin said she made a promise to her mother to help her die with dig­nity. “My mum said to me ‘ it was bet­ter to die like a dog than a hu­man be­ing’.”

It’s im­por­tant that New Zealan­ders have their say. Les­ley Martin

“It’s a very com­mon thing when peo­ple are in good health and could, for ex­am­ple, be watch­ing a movie with a very hor­ri­ble death un­fold­ing, and you look to each other and say ‘ if ever that’s me you’ll switch the ma­chine off or shoot me or what­ever’, you agree and make these prom­ises and then get a cup of tea and bis­cuit and watch the rest of the movie and life goes on.”

The mother- of- two said dur­ing her time as an in­ten­sive care nurse at Whanganui Hos­pi­tal many suf­fer­ing pa­tients had asked for help to die.

“When­ever that hap­pened I emo­tion­ally and al­most phys­i­cally took a step back and would say ‘ no I can’t do that but I can do ev­ery­thing I can to make you com­fort­able’ but in my mind when you go home from those night shifts you think ‘ Would I help some­one I love’?”

Martin said she be­lieved if her mother had been able to make use of as­sisted dy­ing, they would have had that sig­nif­i­cant good­bye.

“You know, I can’t re­mem­ber the last thing I said to my mum.”

 ??  ?? For­mer Whanganui nurse Les­ley Martin pic­tured at Stone­henge in Wilt­shire. Martin’s trial for the at­tempted mur­der of her ter­mi­nally ill mother at­tracted world­wide at­ten­tion and she is now a cam­paigner for eu­thana­sia.
For­mer Whanganui nurse Les­ley Martin pic­tured at Stone­henge in Wilt­shire. Martin’s trial for the at­tempted mur­der of her ter­mi­nally ill mother at­tracted world­wide at­ten­tion and she is now a cam­paigner for eu­thana­sia.
 ??  ?? Les­ley Martin with her mother Joy who was dy­ing from bowel cancer.
Les­ley Martin with her mother Joy who was dy­ing from bowel cancer.

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