A mother who gave her
severely ill and bed-ridden daughter a morphine overdose to help her to die at
her request was found not guilty of murder today. She had previously
pleaded guilty to assisted suicide. Lynn was 31, and had been
bed-ridden for seventeen years after contracting myalgic encephalomyelitis
(ME). She asked her mother to help her take a morphine overdose in
order to end her suffering. Lynn Gilderdale had made several
requests to die; she had an Advance Decision refusing life sustaining treatment
and a do not resuscitate order in her medical notes.
Sarah Wootton, Chief Executive of Dignity in Dying said:
“A not guilty verdict in this case was the right decision. Whilst
we don’t condone acting outside of the law, and it is important that these
kinds of cases are investigated, the judge is now able to use his discretion
when sentencing Kay Gilderdale. Given that she pleaded guilty to
assisting in a suicide, she will be sentenced under the Suicide Act; therefore
the judge is not forced to impose a mandatory sentence.
“As demonstrated here and in Frances Inglis’ case last week, the
existing law doesn’t work in practice and is not in line with public opinion. Ultimately
we need a full public consultation on whether the law should change, to
regulate and legalise assisted dying for terminally ill people and to create a
specific or partial defence of ‘mercy killing’ for these offences. The law
needs to protect potentially vulnerable people by being tough on malicious or
irresponsible behaviour, but it also needs to be flexible enough to show mercy
when the motivation is clearly compassion.
“There is a clear ethical difference between assisted dying,
assisted suicide, euthanasia and murder, yet the law makes little distinction
between these acts. Assisted dying is assisting a terminally ill,
mentally competent adult to shorten the dying process, at their request;
assisted suicide is assisting the death of a chronically ill, suffering person
if they ask for help; euthanasia is direct action to end a person’s life to
enable that person to have a good death; and murder is a malicious, self
serving act which results in the death of another. While cases
relating to all of these occurrences must be investigated, people who act
compassionately to end the suffering of someone they love should not be
subjected to the full force of the murder law, which carries a mandatory life
“The Law Commission reviewed murder law in 2006 and recommended
that further review was needed in relation to cases of ‘mercy killing’. This
is yet to be implemented. Dignity in Dying calls for an urgent
review into this area of the law and suggests that a separate law to cover
cases such as these, or a partial defence of mercy killing may be
Notes to editor:
About Dignity in
in Dying campaigns for greater choice, control and access to services at the
end of life. It advocates providing terminally ill adults with the option of an
assisted death, within strict legal safeguards, and for universal access to
high quality end-of-life care.
in Dying has over 100,000 supporters and receives its funding entirely from
donations from the public.
consistently show that at least 80% of the UK population supports a change in
the law on assisted dying.
ICM poll October 2008, commissioned by Dignity in Dying.
- Approximately 61% of
the population know that they have the right to refuse medical treatment
in advance if they lose the ability to communicate.
- Approximately 11% have
an Advance Decision.
ICM poll September 2006, commissioned by Dignity in Dying.
- Almost a fifth (19%)
know of someone who would benefit from an Advance Decision or who would
have died a better death had they had an Advance Decision
- 39% of people, and 42%
of those over 65, did not realise that relatives have no automatic legal
rights in this area.
Compassion in Dying
Compassion in Dying
provides Advance Decisions free of charge at: www.compassionindying.org.uk
For all media
enquiries, please contact Jo Cartwright on 020 7479 7737 / 07725433025 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.