This interview was broadcast on BBC Radio 2 (89-91 FM) on Jeremy Vine’s mid-day news/chat programme. Kay Gilderdale appeared on the show supposedly as part of ME Awareness Week, but Vine was more interested in the details of her daughter Lynn’s suicide and Kay’s role in it.
Lynn Gilderdale had suffered from ME very severely since 1991, and had been bedridden and unable to speak or swallow since mid-1992. She had endured constant, severe pain and nausea for the duration and had also suffered various forms of abuse and negligent care, often with disastrous and traumatic results. In her later years, she was active in an online community mostly composed of women with severe ME, and used the alias Jessie Oliver. She died on 4th December 2008 from a self-administered morphine overdose taken the previous morning. Her mother was charged with attempted murder for giving her drugs which were intended to ease any distress she might have been in between her overdose and her death, but was cleared in January 2010.
Jeremy Vine: We’re going to talk now to a woman who made the agonising decision to help her seriously ill daughter take her own life after a 17-year battle with ME. In December 2008, 31-year-old Lynn Gilderdale tried to kill herself with a morphine overdose. Her mum, Kay, tried to talk her out of it, and then agreed to help and handed Lynn more morphine. When Lynn began to have breathing difficulties, Kay crushed some tablets and gave them to her. Thirty hours after she began her attempt to end her life, Lynn died.
Four months later, Kay Gilderdale was charged with attempted murder. She denied it, and went on trial at Lewes Crown Court in January this year. The jury took less than two hours to find her not guilty; she admitted the lesser charge of aiding and abetting suicide, and was given a 12-month conditional discharge. The Crown Prosecution Service was criticised for pressing ahead with the attempted murder charge, but defended its decision, saying there was evidence that Mrs Gilderdale had gone a step further than the assisted suicide. But the judge, Mr Justice Bean, said the jury’s decision to acquit her showed “common sense, decency and humanity”. And I’m pleased to say Kay Gilderdale joins us in the studio now. Good afternoon to you.
Kay Gilderdale: Hello.
JV: Can you take us back to the night itself and just, if you can bear it, just remind us what happened? It was December 2008, wasn’t it?
KG: Yes, December 2008. I had gone to bed, and Lynn knocked for me; it was about quarter to two in the morning, and I went in to find that she had connected her morphine to her Hickman line, which is a direct into a vein, to her heart, so the slow-release morphine was given in one dose, basically, an immediate dose.
JV: Which should be fatal?
KG: It would be, yes; it would be for the majority of people. Lynn had been on morphine for some time, so she had built up a tolerance but even so, she was on such a high dose that it was surprising that what she had given herself hadn’t worked.
JV: And what happened next?
KG: Em, I sat down on the side of her bed and asked her what she’s doing, and I tried to dissuade her; we spoke for some time. Lynn can’t … couldn’t speak, so it was all through her sign language, and she told me that she had had enough, that she was too broken, that she couldn’t go on anymore, because she had suffered incredibly for the preceding 17 years, and she had an incredible spirit, was very strong, and had hope; she really believed she’d get better, but when she got to the point where so many things were going wrong in her body, she said she couldn’t go on, she couldn’t carry on like that.
So she asked me to help her, and she had spoken for two years about wanting to die, and she said she can’t do it herself, she can’t get up and get out of bed; she was totally bedridden, she couldn’t even sit up, raise her head, and she asked me if I would get her more morphine, which I agreed to and gave it to her, and she administered it herself and went unconscious.
JV: And that was the fatal dose there, was it? Or did you do more for her?
KG: Well, nobody could tell whether that was the fatal dose or not. It … that amount of morphine, I’m sure, would have been a fatal dose, even for Lynn, but she was unconscious, and I did … I did begin to worry, when she showed signs of distress; I don’t really want to go into all the details of that night or of that time, but she did show signs of distress, and I gave her her normal medications, so another normal dose of morphine, which would go in over 24 hours, basically because she could have been in pain, because it was some time since she’d had the morphine she’d given herself.
JV: And was there a point at which you realised that your daughter had died?
KG: Yes, yes, I felt she was dying, and she had made it very very clear that she didn’t want to be resuscitated, and she didn’t want to be put on machines, she didn’t want to be kept alive. So yes, the moment she died, I knew immediately, but yes, I felt she was dying …
JV: What did you do when you realised? It’s at night, you’re home alone with her, she’s in her bedroom where you’ve been looking after her for years, what did you realised she was dead?
KG: I sent a text to my ex-husband and asked him to come, and said “don’t rush”, I was worried he might have a crash or something if he panicked, but he didn’t; he said “what’s wrong?” and I said, “I’ll tell you when you get here”. And he didn’t push it, because of course he knew as well that Lynn had been speaking about wanting to die for some time. And she’d also told us that she would never go back into hospital again; she’d had 55, 60 admissions to hospital, and we knew that she would need to go in; she always had to go in in the winter, she was always getting bad infections or some crisis happened, and she was adamant that she would never go in again, so even if she hadn’t attempted suicide, she would not have had any further treatment, and she would have died at some stage.
JV: I saw that you, it was written some place that you threw yourself across her bed, and …
KG: I did, when she was unconscious, I mean, I was sitting by her bed and I just lay across her, and … of course, I was distraught, because it is totally against what you want when you love somebody, you don’t want to let them go, you want them to stay, and my heart was absolutely broken.
But it wasn’t just that night that took Lynn’s life; it was all that happened during the 17 years that took her there, day by day, week by week, year by year, it was the suffering … also, it hurt her terribly that, I mean, this week is ME Awareness Week, and it hurt her terribly that people did not believe that her illness was real. There she was with so many things going wrong in her body, and we still came up against this belief, and all she wanted was belief, acceptance and respect for a very serious neurological illness. So it was all those years of suffering and everything she had to contend with. She was very, very brave.
JV: She came down with it, with this ME, drastic version of ME at about 14, didn’t she? And she’d just had that injection at school, was it?
KG: Yes, she was very fit, she was into all kinds of sports, and fun-loving and everything. And she had a BCG which … it wasn’t the vaccination that was the problem, it was her immune response, and there is actually some good scientific research being done, all funded privately because there’s no government money going into research into ME, that have found that there are gene abnormalities that affect the immune system. I don’t know, because this needs to be proven, but it would appear that her immune system did not respond and straight away after that, she became ill that afternoon, and she got one infection after another and needed antibiotic after antibiotic. And that was in November, late November, and by February  she was extremely ill.
JV: And she lost 50% of her bone mass …
KG: Yes …
JV: And she could only move her head, could she, is that right?
KG: She couldn’t even move her head from side to side. She could move her arms - at one point, she couldn’t even move her arms, and she had to push her head with her hand from side to side, and a lot of things went wrong in her body, yes, she only had 50% bone mass; that was due to the fact that she was bedridden, also the fact that she stopped producing a lot of hormones in her body. Her brain, a part of her brain, the hypothalmus, the part that gives out instructions to other places, to make the pituitary make hormones, actually shrunk and stopped giving out messages to her body. So a combination … plus, she had to take steroids for, she had total adrenal failure, so all those things had an effect on her bones, yes.
JV: So you have this terrible period— well, more than a period, 17 years of looking after her, and it’s just you and her in the house most of the time, and then it comes to the night that you’ve described, and then you are prosecuted for attempted murder. Now, why the charge of attempted murder? Is it because, after she lost consciousness, you added some things yourself, or what?
KG: Em, I thought in the beginning that the attempted murder was a mistake, and they would realise it. I thought they had misunderstood, that they thought I had administered all the morphine, because there was a little bit of confusion, it was like Chinese whispers, within the reports. So, I thought everything would be fine, they’d see, I’d said what it was, assisted suicide, and I expected to be taken into custody for that. I was baffled by the attempted murder charge, and yes, possibly, they believed that what I gave Lynn was to cause her death, but in fact, as the doctor said at the time, what I gave her was therapeutic, to make sure she wasn’t suffering …
JV: And you were cleared in January …
KG: I was, yes, and very grateful to the jury and the judge …
JV: But you got a conditional discharge for aiding and abetting a suicide, is that correct?
KG: Yes; the reason for that was, I did plead guilty to assisted suicide (sic) right from the beginning, and because of the new guidelines, had they been in place when I was arrested for that, because all the points when someone should not be charged applied to me, so that’s why at that point it was a conditional discharge for the assisted suicide.
JV: So let me just ask you about life since then, because you are obviously still grieving your beautiful daughter.
JV: And that takes precedence over everything.
KG: Yes; what the year leading up to the trial did was … everone in the family had to keep going, had to keep pushing ourselves to deal with all the court hearings, everything else; we were grieving for Lynn terribly, but we had to keep going; so, of course, once the verdict came out in the trial and we could, sort of, we had relief in a way, we could grieve again; well, the grieving never stopped, but we’re all still … it’s still very raw, and we’re all still missing Lynn terribly.
JV: And are you traumatised by the whole legal process, by having been in court, by having wondered if you’d go to jail, do you still wake up thinking about that?
KG: I think, when it started off, I knew that I had assisted suicide so I was prepared for whatever might come in as much as anybody could be prepared; but I … (long pause)
JV: You weren’t ready for that level of …
KG: I wasn’t ready for that.
JV: The prosecution?
JV: What would your daughter make of the story since she died?
KG: She would have been jumping up and down and shaking her fist and been very upset by it all, because she didn’t want me to get into trouble at all, and … She didn’t have a choice, because she couldn’t get up out of bed herself, she didn’t want me to get into trouble, but she had no other way of getting out of the miserable, painful, terrible life that she had. She had tried to put up with it for so, for such a long time, and it was mentioned in once place that Lynn was selfish by asking me to help. She was not selfish, she was selfless, and she had no other option at that point.
JV: Just a couple of comments for you. Jamie emails, “I wanted to say what an amazingly strong and courageous lady; her daughter would surely be very proud of her Mum. Please pass on my best wishes”.
Judith Taylor is in Manchester; she says, “my father had ME for nearly seven years. He never made a full recovery. Unless you have lived with someone who has ME, you have no idea how awful it is. There are different levels, that should be appreciated, and I feel tremendous sympathy for this woman. She should not be judged by anyone who doesn’t know what it’s like.”
And Paul Hart in Dagenham says the same kind of thing: “the police and the prosecution service should be ashamed of themselves for prosecuting Kay Gilderdale. If you kept an animal that was this sick alive you would be locked up. Kay Gilderdale is an honourable and caring mother; she should never have faced a trial”.
And you did spent, what was it, fourteen, seventeen years caring for your daughter …
KG: Yes …
JV: You gave up your job …
KG: Yes, yes …
JV: And you were on hand day and night.
KG: Yes, and willingly, because you know, obviously I didn’t want my daughter to be ill, I didn’t want it to be necessary, but I willingly looked after her; as long as she needed me, I would have looked after her.
JV: Thank you for coming in and speaking to us.
KG: Thank you.
JV: Kay Gilderdale.
(“Here Comes the Sun”, by the Beatles, starts playing.)