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'She knew only torture lay ahead' - Daughter faced police questioning after cancer-stricken mother took her own life

PUBLISHED: 18:03 04 July 2019 | UPDATED: 09:19 05 July 2019

Norman Lamb speaking in a debate on assisted dying. Photo: House of Commons

Norman Lamb speaking in a debate on assisted dying. Photo: House of Commons

House of Commons

A north Norfolk daughter was subjected to police questioning after her cancer-stricken mother chose to take her own life.

Sir Norman Lamb, Liberal Democrat MP for North Norfolk, highlighted the case in a debate on assisted dying in the House of Commons on Thursday.

Sir Norman said he had been contacted by a constituent Zoe Marley, whose mother Judith was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer in January 2018.

Because Judith Marley had nursed her own mother with cancer, and had seen "numerous bad deaths", Sir Norman, reading from Zoe Marley's letter, said: "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 palliative care, she did not want it.

"She was a very private person, her death should have been a private affair, instead of the circus it became."

Sir Norman said in July 2018, Mrs Marley made an attempt on her own life, but was found in the garden - "her most cherished place" - by her daughter, where she was still alive and started to come round.

Sir Norman said: "Her daughter was then placed in an impossible, insidious, position, not knowing whether to call an ambulance. Her mother did not want resuscitation.

"And yet ultimately she felt, because of the impossible situation she was in, she had to call an ambulance."

Reading again from the letter, Sir Norman said: "Her wishes to stay as home and not be admitted to hospital were my priority as her lasting power of attorney. But was I technically assisting her suicide? My lack of action could be considered as supporting a suicide. I was terrified of the consequences of my inactivity."

An ambulance was called and a doctor also came to the house, who Sir Norman said was unsympathetic.

"He said he had spoken to an on-call psychiatrist," the letter said. "And he was within his rights to call the police so they could take her to hospital. He was threatening and arrogant and telling my mum if she died there would be a police investigation. It all made me sick to the stomach.

"All this time my beautiful mum laid outside while my daughter held her hand."

The doctor did call the police and three officers arrived, which was branded "demeaning and frightening". But they were said to be unsure what to do, even when shown paperwork, and called the situation a "grey area".

"After much consideration they insisted they take my mum to hospital," the letter said. "I was now indignant and focussed on what my mum wanted, I made it very clear I would obstruct them. I felt everyone was trying to cover their backs."

Eventually, Mrs Marley was allowed to stay at home, after contact was made with A&E and a manager confirmed that they would not be able to treat her due to her wishes.

"Finally at 3am they brought my mum inside," the letter said.

A month later the symptoms from Mrs Marley's brain metastasis - where cancer has spread - began to present themselves.

"The pain in her head was unbearable and the constant vomiting made keeping pain medication down almost impossible.

"And so ultimately on Friday 17th August my mum had had enough, she knew only torture lay ahead."

Mrs Marley overdosed and by Saturday morning, she was dead.

Zoe Marley said: "My family and 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."

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

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