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Page last updated at 12:00 GMT, Monday, 1 February 2010

Why I helped my daughter to die


'I didn't murder my daughter'

As a poll for the BBC reveals support for assisted suicide for someone who is terminally ill, Kay Gilderdale, acquitted last week of attempted murder, describes her only daughter Lynn's slow death and her unwavering conviction that she did the right thing.

Kay Gilderdale could not understand why the morphine was not working.

It had been several hours since her daughter Lynn has self-injected three large doses of morphine in the early hours of 3 December, 2008 in an attempt to end her life. Ms Gilderdale believed it should have been a fatal dose but Lynn was still alive.

Her last words were, she's frightened - I said why? And she said I'm frightened for you and I'm frightened it won't work
Kay Gilderdale

In her desperation, Kay Gilderdale turned to the internet and a euthanasia support group for information and counsel.

"I wanted advice, I wanted to know why the morphine, why she didn't die with the amount that she had," she says of her actions.

"I was really worried that she was suffering in some way because she hadn't died - she was unconscious".

Kay Gilderdale had cared for Lynn for the 17 years since her daughter had contracted chronic fatigue syndrome, better known as ME. Lynn had been in constant pain since being diagnosed with a severe form of the neurological condition at the age of 14.

It was Kay's actions in the 30 hours between Lynn taking the morphine and dying that the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) felt had crossed the line - from assisted suicide to attempted murder.

They included giving further medication, injecting Lynn with air and searching the internet for advice on overdoses.

'Fighting with myself'

The question of how far someone can legally go in assisting another person's suicide has prompted widespread debate in the UK in recent years. Last September, the director of public prosecutions issued interim guidelines to help clarify the legal position - outlining the factors in a case that might lead to the relative or friend being prosecuted for helping their loved one die.

The 1961 Suicide Act makes it an offence to aid, abet, counsel or procure a suicide or a suicide attempt in England and Wales
Penalty - up to 14 years in prison
But the issue of proportionality - tempering justice with mercy - has come to a head in recent years
In September 2009, the director of public prosecutions set out a range of factors that influence whether a person would face prosecution or not
He set out 16 factors that could influence authorities in favour of a prosecution
These include issues such as financial motive, pressuring the individual into suicide and whether the person wanting to die was under 18 or suffering from a mental illness

But crucially for Ms Gilderdale, that clarification came after the decision to prosecute her.

And while the case has prompted an outpouring of sympathy for the Gilderdale family, many feel the law needs to hold firm on assisted suicide. Peter Saunders, director of Care Not Killing, has said the law acts as a powerful deterrent to protect vulnerable people from exploitation and abuse.

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

But Mr Saunders says the argument amounts to terminally ill people getting less protection from the law than others.

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

Yet despite the ordeal of watching her daughter slowly die, Ms Gilderdale says she never doubted that she was doing the right thing.

"I was torn apart inside because I wanted Lynn to live and I was fighting with myself to do what I knew she wanted, what she needed - to adhere to her wishes and give her time to die," she says of those hours alone with Lynn in the family's East Sussex home.

Last week, a jury in Lewes Crown Court acquitted Ms Gilderdale of the attempted murder charge and the judge in the case questioned the public interest in the CPS decision to prosecute.

She had previously pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting the suicide and had been given a 12-month conditional discharge on this count.

Of the night her daughter decided to take her own life, after years spent on high levels of morphine, Ms Gilderdale says what she believed would have been a fatal dosage did not kill Lynn right away.

After a few hours she began to worry when Lynn's breathing became laboured and she appeared to be in distress.

Crushed tablets

"I thought when she went unconscious, I thought that she would die quite soon… but she started to show some signs of distress and had difficulty breathing.

"I was really worried that she was suffering in some way because she hadn't died… but I didn't know what she was feeling or what she wasn't feeling."

Lynn Gilderdale
'She had a way of getting round people and she was very popular," says Kay Gilderdale, recalling how her daughter had been before contracting ME when she was 14.

'She'd come home from school bursting to tell you everything that was going on and I have very strong pictures of her at school sports day. I see her running because she was a great runner as well and striding out and I just catch all the things in my head of when she was able to do all that, just be out and do the normal things.'

She then crushed up some sleeping tablets and sedatives and gave those to Lynn in an attempt to make sure she was not suffering.

"I didn't want to cause her any harm, I wanted to ease her passing or her suffering… I was worried that she was suffering and that she wasn't able to tell me."

"Her last words were, she's frightened. I thought she meant frightened of the unknown, and I said why are you frightened? And she said I'm frightened for you and I'm frightened it won't work. So she didn't want to get me in trouble and she wanted her suicide bid to be successful."

"It wasn't a whim, she had considered it very, very carefully what she was giving up and what she was giving up was a quality of life so poor and as much as she wanted life, she didn't want the life that she had."

Ms Gilderdale says it was just after 7 in the morning on the 4 December - 30 hours after the initial injection - when Lynn finally died.

"I just knew, I think I knew instantly that she had died," she said. "I just touched her and realised she had gone."

Panorama: I Helped My Daughter Die, BBC One, Monday, 1 February at 2030 GMT

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