Attempted murder or assisted suicide?

In stark contrast to the case of Frances Inglis who administered a dose of heroin to her son Tom and who is now serving a life sentence, Mrs Bridget Gilderdale has, earlier this week, been cleared of the attempted murder of her daughter Lynn.

Jurors at Lewes Crown Court returned a unanimous 'not guilty' verdict against Mrs Gilderdale who had been charged with attempted murder of her daughter Lynn who died in December 2008.  Lynn suffered from the chronic fatigue illness, ME, and had fought against the condition for some 17 years.  Over a period of time Lynn had become paralysed and found it difficult to swallow.  The court was told that after Lynn made a failed suicide bid her mother crushed up pills with a pestle and mortar and fed them to her through her nasal tube, Mrs Gilderdale also handed her morphine and injected three syringes of air into her vein.

It is not necessary for either the jury or the trial judge to defend the verdict, but after the jury had delivered its verdict in this case, Mr Justice Bean said: "I do not normally comment on the verdicts of juries but in this case their decision, if I may say so, shows common sense, decency and humanity which makes jury trials so important in a case of this kind. There is no dispute that you were a caring and loving mother and that you considered that you were acting in the best interests of your daughter."

Mr Justice Bean was obviously sufficiently concerned about the merits of the case as he asked the Crown Prosecution Service's prosecutor "why it was considered to be in the public interest" to pursue Gilderdale on the attempted murder charge when she had pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting suicide. 

Following her earlier admission of aiding and abetting the suicide of her 31-year-old daughter, Mrs Gilderdale was given a 12-month conditional discharge.

The Crown Prosecution Service told the court that the decision to prosecute was taken at "the highest level".  Apparently this was after Mrs Gilderdale had told her GP and police she had given her daughter an air embolism (injected three syringes of air into her vein) with the intent to end her life.

A post-mortem examination found that Miss Gilderdale had died of a morphine overdose which she had taken herself before asking for her mother's help to end the pain, and as a result of which Mrs Gilderdale was not charged with murder but with attempted murder.

Following the verdict the Gilderdale family, through her son Steve, read out a statement on the steps of the court. Steve, flanked by his mother and father, praised the verdict.

The statement read: "We believe this not guilty verdict properly reflects the selfless actions my mother took on finding that Lynn had decided to take her own life, to make her daughter's final moments as peaceful and painless as possible. These actions exhibit the same qualities of dedication, love and care that mum demonstrated throughout the 17 years of Lynn's illness. I'm very proud of her and I hope she will be afforded the peace that she deserves to rebuild her life and finally grieve for the death of her daughter."

The case is sure to attract attention and trigger further debate and argument about the adequacy of the law over assisted suicide.

Ironically the jurors were told that Mrs Gilderdale was a loving and devoted mother who gave round-the-clock care during her daughter's battle with ME.

Similar words were used to describe Mrs Inglis when she was sentenced to life for her part in the murder of her son.  In the case of Mrs Inglis, she seemed intent on acting to end her son's life regardless of his wishes, whereas the case of Mrs Gilderdale's daughter Lyn seems to be distinguishable as there was a settled and clear intention of dying.

Apparently Lynn had attempted suicide in the past.  There was also a 'Do Not Resuscitate' note on her medical records and Lynn had even considered ending her life at Swiss-based assisted suicide organisation Dignitas.

Other interested parties have already let their views be known, adding to the debate. 

Sarah Wootton, Chief Executive of the charity Dignity in Dying, said the law made little distinction between the act of murder, euthanasia, assisted dying and assisted suicide.

Sarah Wootton added: "Given that Lynn Gilderdale was mentally competent, made persistent requests to die and had an Advance Decision stating that she did not want to be kept alive, it seems that [Bridget] Kay Gilderdale's actions should have been investigated under the Suicide Act, rather than under murder law. Ultimately, the government needs to review the law in this area, as this case highlights at present the law is a mess."

In the meantime, the Scottish Parliament is set later this year to debate the End-of-Life Assistance Bill, introduced by MSP Margo Macdonald who herself suffers from Parkinson's disease.  The Bill proposes to legalise suicide and allows terminally ill people to seek help to die.

Apparently a survey of two-thirds of MSPs showed 17 supported the bill, 53 said they were against and 20 were undecided.  The survey was conducted by BBC Scotland's Politics Show and is based upon 90 replies out of 129 MSPs.

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