UK mother cleared of attempted murder of ME-suffering daughter

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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

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Does the law on assisted suicide need to be clarified?

Bridget Gilderdale, a mother from Stonegate, East Sussex, has been found not guilty of the attempted murder of her daughter, Lynn Gilderdale—a 31-year-old sufferer of chronic fatigue syndrome (more commonly known as ME)—after her daughter was found dead at their home on 4 December, having been killed using a concoction of pills and morphine. The case has called into question the United Kingdom's assisted suicide laws.

Cquote1.svg 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 Cquote2.svg

—Mr Justice Bean

Bridget Gilderdale had already admitted to aiding and abetting her daughter's suicide, but the jury decided, unanimously, to acquit her of a charge of attempted murder. The presiding judge, Mr Justice Bean, had already questioned the accusation's suitability, asking prosecutor Sally Howes "why it was considered to be in the public interest". Once the verdict was delivered, he 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."

Gilderdale was given a 12-month conditional discharge. The case stands in contrast to the life sentence received last week by Frances Inglis, who killed her severely brain damaged son Tom by injecting him with heroin. Tom had, however, never expressed any wish to die, and his mother had ignored medical advice, while Lynn had previously attempted suicide. When this attempt had failed, her mother had assisted her in ending her life.

Cquote1.svg at present the law is a mess. Cquote2.svg

—Sarah Wootton, chief executive of Dignity in Dying

The case has brought into the limelight the debate over a person's "right to die" and the United Kingdom's laws on assisted suicide. Some claim that, with a new draft policy clarifying the law in the pipeline, Bridget Gilderdale should not have been prosecuted at all. A spokeswoman for the Crown Prosecution Service defended the decision to prosecute, saying that "It was not clear cut: there was a sequence of events and the toxicologist could not prove which of these stages resulted in death," and that it was not certain whether Lynn Gilderdale had died from assisted suicide. Sarah Wootton, chief executive of Dignity in Dying, says that there is a "clear ethical difference" between asisted suicide and murder, and that the law does not take this into account. She said, "Ultimately, the Government needs to review the law in this area, as this case highlights at present the law is a mess."


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