Page last updated at 11:47 GMT, Monday, 1 February 2010

ME mother Kay Gilderdale backs suicide law calls

Kay Gilderdale
Kay Gilderdale says she did the right thing for her daughter

A mother cleared last week of the attempted murder of her severely ill daughter has backed calls for a change in the law on assisted death.

Kay Gilderdale, of Stonegate, East Sussex, whose daughter had had ME for 17 years, said the law "doesn't make sense" as it stands.

A poll for BBC One's Panorama suggests most people support assisted suicide for someone who is terminally ill.

But Care Not Killing said changing the law would put the vulnerable at risk.

Ms Gilderdale admitted aiding and abetting her daughter Lynn, 31, to take her own life, and was given a 12-month conditional discharge on 25 January.

Lynn Gilderdale, who had been left paralysed and unable to swallow, was found dead at their home on 4 December 2008.

Her mother told Panorama: "I know I did the right thing for Lynn. She's free and at peace where she needed to be. Whatever the consequences, I would do it again."

The 1961 Suicide Act makes it an offence to aid, abet, counsel or procure a suicide or a suicide attempt in England and Wales
Anyone doing so could potentially face 14 years in prison
The Director of Public Prosecutions recently issued interim guidelines to clarify this law, following instruction by Law Lords, spelling out the range of public interest factors that will be taken into account when deciding on cases
The law is almost identical in Northern Ireland
There is no specific law on assisted suicide in Scotland, although someone could be prosecuted under homicide legislation

But she said more "could be done to clarify the law" because "there was confusion".

"If you've got a number of people who know the wishes of somebody and know they have suffered for a long time and see they are not going to recover - why could we not have a law of safeguards?

"Where a panel of people who know the patient can get together, speak to the patient and be sure that's what they want, what the patient wants - is that they cannot go on any further - and why could Lynn not have had a better death?" she said.

"If the patient makes it very, very clear in writing to those people, so there is no doubt, there is no risk that somebody could have pushed them into it - a slippery slope - [there would be] none of that."

Ms Gilderdale said she had found her daughter injecting the opiate and had brought more morphine when asked.

She said she had become worried her unconscious daughter had been suffering and so had given her crushed up pills through her feeding tube.

"I was trying to work out what I could give her to stop the distress, without causing her harm," she said.

To argue that if you are terminally ill you deserve less protection from the law than do the rest of us is highly discriminatory as well as dangerous
Care Not Killing director Dr Peter Saunders

More than 1,000 people were surveyed for the poll carried out for Panorama.

It found 73% of those asked believed friends or relatives should be able to assist the suicide of a terminally ill loved one.

If - as in the case of Ms Gilderdale's daughter - the illness was not terminal, support for assisted suicide fell to 48%.

Responding to the Panorama poll, director of Care Not Killing, Dr Peter Saunders, said: "To argue that if you are terminally ill you deserve less protection from the law than do the rest of us is highly discriminatory as well as dangerous.

"Many cases of abuse involving elderly, sick and disabled people occur in the context of so-called loving families, and the blanket prohibition of intentional killing or assisting suicide is there to ensure that vulnerable people are not put at risk."

Baroness Finlay, an independent peer who is a professor of palliative medicine, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme it was "hardly surprising" the Panorama poll had found public support for assisted suicide, because "opinion polls reflect the way something is presented in the media".

Lynn Gilderdale
Lynn Gilderdale developed ME at the age of 14

She said licensing assisted suicide would be a "very dangerous step" because it would remove protection and "suck all sorts of people in".

"Look at what happened in other countries, for instance in Oregon - the number of assisted suicide has gone up fourfold - if that is translated to Britain, we are not talking about a small number, we are talking about a thousand a year," she said.

Baroness Finlay said people had good days and bad days and changed their mind about assisted suicide.

If the UK "ever went down that road" it was important legislation fell under the Ministry of Justice, not the Department of Health," she added.

"The difficulty is, if healthcare is part of it, you are actually getting doctors to take shortcuts in care, and with financial measures that's going to mount."

The Panorama survey was carried out earlier this month and the figures are broadly in line with previous surveys.

Last year, the director of public prosecutions issued guidelines on when assisted suicide cases should be taken to court.

Panorama: I Helped My Daughter to Die is on BBC One on Monday 1 February at 2030 GMT.

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