5 April 2003

New Zealand Herald



Advocate dedicates her life to a dignified death


Lesley Martin will be married in the school hall at Wanganui Girls College a week today.

She and fiance Warren Fulljames appeared in the same hall as husband and wife in a school production 23 years ago, but this time it is the real thing.

Three days before the nuptials, Ms Martin, who has been charged with attempting to kill her ill mother, Joy, will appear in the Wanganui District Court for a hearing.

Later that day she will travel to Wellington to listen to MPs debate the Death with Dignity Bill.

On her honeymoon she will have to report to Waiheke police. It wasn't something she expected to be doing, and yes, she is feeling anxious.

"I'm new to all of this ... I think I'm doing okay but I know my signs of stress building and they are there."

Ms Martin has, to some extent, become the face of the pro- euthanasia debate since the release of her book To Die Like a Dog - it sparked a 10-month police inquiry and ultimately the charge against her.

She was initially banned from talking publicly about any subject as part of her bail conditions, but the gagging order was lifted late last month.

Ms Martin still cannot discuss her case, but can talk generally about the right-to-die debate.

The nearly 40-year-old with cropped dark hair and hazel eyes is surprised when asked if she sees herself as the pro- euthanasia poster girl, but says if it helps to raise awareness then she is happy with that.

She agonised for three years over whether to put the book out.

"I had to ask myself if it was something I wanted attached to me for the rest of my life."

Euthanasia is about freedom of choice, she says.

"I don't like to think and talk about death every single day of the week, just like the next person, but life and death are inseparable. A good life is deserving of a good death."

Ms Martin, who worked as a nurse for 17 years, mostly in critical care, says she saw "so many sad and tragic ways people die" that she wanted the legal right to choose, a view she believes many New Zealanders share.

London-born and Wanganui-raised, Ms Martin says she is doing her "absolute most" now so that she "won't have to rely on a promise from someone I love, or a piece of rope".

Since her book numerous people have contacted her to offer support - one of them was Warren Fulljames, whom she had not seen since the school play - but there has also been hate mail.

She claims about 20 people have recounted almost identical circumstances to hers and argues that because of the clandestine nature of euthanasia, there is no way of gaining a clear picture of what is happening.

What Ms Martin wants is an "honest, upfront" and legislated way to die a dignified death. She says New Zealand is ready for the debate.

"I don't have all the answers to all the questions. I have set the ball rolling. It's up to people in positions far greater than mine to push it forward.

"Hopefully I will come out the other end intact, with a marriage and family intact."

The first-time author, who has dabbled in short stories and poems, has adapted the book for stage - it will be performed in Wanganui in July - and is working on a second book called Voices, based on the stories people have told her. She has also entered the Montana book awards.

Asked if she is worried about going to jail, she replies: "Wouldn't you be?".

Still, she jokes that although her passport has been revoked as part of her bail, she has an old British passport and a pilot's licence if need be.

But she has a job to do here.

"I have a fabulous fiance who has been thrown in the deep end and has just shone. I have a very little boy who still needs me ...

"I don't want to go to jail but I think someone needed to stand up and be counted, and for it to be out there enough for people to pay attention."