Coroner rules 90-year-old Norfolk woman’s death was suicide

A Norfolk woman took her own life just two days after her 90th birthday as she could not face the prospect of dementia destroying the final years of her life.

Olwen Doris Green took an overdose of painkillers on March 6 last year, coroner William Armstrong ruled yesterday at a Norwich inquest – which also heard that Mrs Green's daughter had been cleared of assisting her in killing herself following a police investigation.

Mr Armstrong heard how Mrs Green, who was a member of the Dignity in Dying campaign which is calling for a change in the law on assisted deaths, had become unhappy about her forthcoming 90th birthday and refused to celebrate the occasion with friends of family.

The greater Norfolk coroner was told Mrs Green, of Aylsham Road, North Walsham, had decided to end her life after forgetting the name of her late husband, Sidney, for the first time.

Mrs Green died after swallowing a large quantity of painkillers and Mr Armstrong said it was clear she had committed suicide.

Following the death, Mrs Green's daughter Megan was arrested on suspicion of murder and a police investigation was launched to discover whether she had assisted her mother in committing suicide, which is illegal in the UK.

After a day of questioning at North Walsham Police Station Megan Green was released on bail – but illness to the Criminal Prosecution Service officer investigating the case meant she was not told she would not be prosecuted for her mother's death until February this year.

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Megan and her brother Edward had an 'understanding' with their mother that she intended to take her life, but their agreement was that as long as she did not make that decision without them, they would not interfere with her suicide plans.

Mr Armstrong confirmed that a post-mortem examination had wholly attributed the suicide to an overdose of painkillers.

At yesterday's hearing, Megan Green said of her mother: 'I loved her very much and I miss her every day. If there was any way I could bring her back I would, but not in the state she was in.

'She was so unhappy in the last couple of days in her life, but when it was clear to us that she had made the decision, she was much happier.

'She felt she had the right, and I felt she had the right, to decide when she would die.'

One of Mrs Green's best friends, Jean Household, known as Chris, also attended the inquest.

She re-affirmed that they both believed in people having more freedom to choose when to die and said both were a member of the Dignity in Dying campaign.

She said: 'At her birthday I just sat with her and talked about anything but her birthday and on the next day there was a definite change in Olwen; she was happier and calmer.

'I think we both knew then what that meant, although nothing was said.'

In closing, the coroner said: 'This was suicide, I have absolutely no doubt about that.

'It is important to make clear, though, in the public's interest, that when there is any suspicion of assisted suicide then the police should carry out a clear and comprehensive investigation as to whether a prosecution should be brought forward.

'This is a criminal offence and remains so until any change is made, which can only be affected by parliament.'

The death of Mrs Green brings to light an issue which has long been controversial.

A spokesman for Dignity in Dying said Mrs Green's case was another example which demonstrates the need for a change in attitude towards assisted dying.

A statement said: 'We are saddened by the death of Mrs Green, who was a long standing supporter of Dignity in Dying.

'We believe a change in the law would help create an environment in which people are more comfortable discussing their fears or concerns as they approach the end of life, specifically with health and social care professionals who may be able to offer additional support.'

However, John Hiles, chairman of the Care Not Killing Alliance, which is against assisted suicide and euthanasia, said: 'I think assisted suicide is a solution to these types of situations, but not the right solution.

'It opens a can of worms because then you can get people going to Switzerland because they are depressed and choosing to die.

'It is because of this that I think these laws need protecting in our country, to protect the vulnerable who could choose to die when they could be cared for.'

david.freezer@archant.co.uk