This programme, which had been made during the period between the death of Lynn Gilderdale and her mother Kay’s trial for her attempted murder, was broadcast after Kay Gilderdale was acquitted (she had admitted assisting a suicide and was given a 12-month conditional discharge). It features interviews with Kay, Lynn’s father Richard and brother Stephen, and others associated with the present debate on assisted suicide including Chris Woodhead, former chief inspector of schools in the UK who has motor neurone disease, and Baroness Campbell of Surbiton, a leading disability rights campaigner who opposes assisted suicide, and has spinal muscular atrophy.
The programme was criticised as being part of a BBC campaign in favour of assisted suicide (a speech for the same cause was delivered by the novelist Terry Pratchett, who is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease, around the same time). Clair Lewis AKA Dennis Queen, a British activist who is opposed to assisted suicide, posted some critical articles here. My debate with Lewis/Queen can be found on this entry.
Key to people who appeared:
- BC: Baroness Campbell, campaigner against assisted suicide
- CW: Chris Woodhead, former Ofsted (UK schools inspectorate) chief who has motor neurone disease
- DP: Debbie Purdy, a woman with multiple sclerosis campaigning for someone to be able to take her abroad to die
- JV: Jeremy Vine, presenter
- KG: Kay (Bridget Kathleen) Gilderdale, mother of Lynn below
- KS: Kier Starmer, Director of Public Prosecutions
- LG or Lynn: Lynn Gilderdale, ME sufferer (1977-2008)
- LS: Laura Storey, school friend of Lynn
- RG: Richard Gilderdale, father of Lynn
- SG: Stephen Gilderdale, brother of Lynn
- VB: Vinnie Boles, Lynn’s maternal uncle
Opens with JV outside BBC building.
JV: Hello, I’m Jeremy Vine and this is Panorama.
Cuts to JV and KG inside Lynn Gilderdale’s bedroom.
JV: The mother accused of killing her bedridden daughter.
KG: I don’t use this room, really, you know, it’s just … Lynn’s room.
Shows picture of KG leaning over LG and stroking her face; there are gold ribbons decorating the side of her bed.
JV: What happened the night she died?
KG: About quarter to one, she knocked. I went in, and I saw the look of determination, like she’d pysched herself up, and really … “I have to do this”.
Cuts to outside Lewes Crown Court, with KG emerging with three others.
JV: For ten months, our cameras have followed this ordinary Mum caught up in extraordinary events.
KG: Whatever the consequences, I would do it again.
Panorama theme tune plays; cuts back to JV outside BBC building.
JV: For a year, Kay Gilderdale believed she could go to prison for the attempted murder of her own daughter, and then last week, a court cleared her, the judge agreeing that she was just a loving Mum trying to do the best for her sick child. The cheers of her relatives may have died down, but the debate around this case has not. If, out of love and dedication, Kay helped her daughter commit suicide, should the law take action against her or not?
Cuts to outside KG’s (and once the other Gilderdales’) house. The words “I HELPED MY DAUGHTER DIE” appear at the bottom of the screen, and a soft electric guitar figure plays. Then cuts to inside the house, with Kay and another woman examining Lynn’s mostly unworn clothes.
JV: This is the home in East Sussex where Kay and her daughter lived. Now, she has only Lynn’s belongings.
KG: These are clothes that Lynn chose from catalogues. There’s the odd thing (handling a black dress with white spots) that I bought her when I was out, but most of them she chose for “when she was better”.
Kay’s sister: Nice, that one.
JV: Kay lives on memories of the daughter she loved.
Picture of Lynn pre-illness shown full screen.
KG: She had quite a strong personality, and she was very popular. She’d come home from school, you know, bursting to tell you everything that was going on …
JV: Happy child?
Shows picture of LG & SG in an ornamental garden, then LG as a child, with KG with blue party hats on their heads.
KG: Happy child, yeah. She loved swimming, she loved sailing, she loved music and dancing, you know, she was interested in everything, really.
JV: And despite everything that’s happened, I’d imagine you could picture that quite vividly?
KG: I have very strong pictures of her. I see her running, because she was a great runner as well, you know, striding out. I just catch all the things in my head of when she was able to do all that.
Cuts to footage of stony beach with father and daughter playing catch, then to JV & SG walking along a beach-side path
SG: We were all very active, and we all spent a lot of time outside. We spent a lot of time on the beach, here, and it was really the time before Lynn got ill, where we were very happy and we did normal family stuff.
JV: Living by the sea, a loving and healthy family. Kay, the auxiliary nurse; husband Richard, a policeman. No clue of what was about to happen.
(Note: the Gilderdales lived in Stonegate, which is approximately 15 miles inland.)
Shows RG walking along a beach, interspersed with footage of people sailing small boats near the beach.
RG: We used to sit on the beach here and look at Lynn and her brother enjoying themselves and thinking how lucky we were to have such fit and healthy children. It’s very difficult to describe how I feel now. I look around and I see her everywhere, really. Yeah, it was where she was free, and before she knew what pain was, and hospitals, and sickness.
A young woman, pulling a small sailing craft, passes by RG.
JV: Lynn was 14 when everything changed, and the start of it was so mundane.
Shows large wave breaking, then cuts to KG’s living room.
KG: There was a call from the school to come and collect her that afternoon because she wasn’t very well; tried to send her back again the next day, she’s sent home sick again; the third day, we send her in and she’s sick again, and she wasn’t able to go in again after that.
Very quickly, she got the flu, then she got bronchitis, tonisillitis, glandular fever, chest infections again, and you’re beginning to realise then that there’s something wrong, that it wasn’t an ordinary illness.
JV: Lynn had fallen ill in 1991. She was diagnosed with a severe form of ME which attacked her body relentlessly.
Shows reconstruction footage of mother with daughter in bed.
KG: By May, she was in a wheelchair, her voice had gone to a whisper, she waas having difficulty swallowing, she couldn’t remember people or things or places …
JV: So, physical destruction in a way …
KG: Yes, then we realised nobody had the answer, there wasn’t a magic cure.
Cuts to footage from 1993 of Lynn’s bedroom with magazine-derived pictures on wall. Lynn is lying under this in bed, with a feeding tube in her nose. She uses a cloth to cool her face.
JV: This is Lynn in her sick bed. She was filmed for a documentary on ME, which showed how, from her 15th birthday, she was paralysed from the waist down and could only be fed through a tube.
KG: It was a conscious decision that I was going to look after her, and I told her many times, for as long as it takes, I’ll be here, I’ll look after you.
JV: Did she then worry about what she was doing to your life?
More footage from 1993 of KG pouring Lynn’s liquid food, taking the bottle into her room and attaching it to Lynn’s pump.
KG: Yeah. She said that on occasions. But she wasn’t difficult to look after. She didn’t complain. She might lie and cry in pain sometimes, but she didn’t complain. And in fact, I was honoured to spend so much time with her, she was a wonderful person, because she was so determined, she was very, very strong; she was a real fighter.
JV: But her body was giving up. Over 16 years, she would be in hospital fifty times, with a succession of serious illnesses.
KG to LG: How’s that, Lynn? All right? You’ll feel better once you’ve something in your tum, OK?
Lynn places long feeding tube behind her pillow. Then a picture of Kay and Lynn with their faces pressed together.
JV: Kay was there constantly for her daughter. But so was the pain. They both lived on hope: one day, Lynn would recover.
Cuts to KG and sister examining Lynn’s clothes, still in plastic wrappers.
KG’s sister: She was such a beautiful girl; I could imagine her looking absolutely stunning in something like that.
KG: She was going to make up for the time that she’s lost …
KG’s sister: Which was the time she never had …
KG: Yes, but she was hoping that she would be the young woman, going out to occasions, to wear this stuff …
JV: Did you feel though, watching her, that somehow you were ahead of her, thinking, “I don’t know how to tell you this, but I don’t think this is beatable”?
KG: Yeah, say whatever is causing the ME goes away, she’s now left with all these very, very significant conditions. She had osteoporosis, with 50% bone loss; she had broken bones, just by being moved; total adrenal failure, ongoing anaemia, liver dysfunction, hypothalmic dysfunction …
JV: You’ve given a list there which is enough to end a life …
KG: Premature ovarian failure …
JV: Well, even that on its own was a signal to her that she would never have children.
KG: She got to the point herself where she said, “I’m too broken; you can’t fix me anymore”. She felt her only escape was to die. (Shows picture of Lynn with very sad face, in hospital bed.)
Footage of bird flying.
JV: And she tried to break free, in May 2007, attempting suicide.
Cuts to JV and SG walking along beach
SG: She mentioned on several occasions that she did not want to carry on the way she was; she did make us aware that she wanted to end her life, yes. She was a very intelligent girl who knew exactly what she wanted to do and what had to be done.
JV: However painful for her brother and parents, there was no doubting Lynn’s wish to die. She had painstakingly written her own online journal.
Shows birds over sea.
Actor reading LG’s words: My body and mind is broken. I am so desperate to end the neverending carousel of pain and suffering. I have nothing left and I am spent.
(Note: you can read what Lynn actually wrote here; search for “And I’ve had enough”)
Cuts back to KG’s house.
KG: You’re torn apart, because you’ve got one part of you wanting to respect your daughter’s wishes, and you’ve got your heart being ripped out at the same time because, because all you want to do is make them better and keep them alive.
JV: But what point did you realise that not only were you prepared for her to go, but you were actually prepared to help?
KG: I knew I’d be prepared to take her to Switzerland, however I did it — I don’t know how I would get her there — but I knew I would be prepared to try and get her there. But there’s no way I could know how I would react in the situation I found myself in.
Shows picture of Kay beside Lynn in hospital.
JV: Lynn couldn’t wait for Switzerland. In December 2008, she took a massive dose of morphine. When I first met Kay, we didn’t talk about the events of that night. On our second meeting, she was ready to.
KG: She held it up to show me, and there was a third left of the whole dose. I just was sat beside her and said, “what are you doing?” …
JV: So … you talked to her.
KG: Yes. I tried to, em, dissuade her, and she asked me, pleaded with me, to get her more morphine, so I went and got the morphine and took it into her and I saw the look of determination, like she’d psyched herself up, and really, “I have to do this”. And she took the last two syringes I gave her and she wouldn’t let me go near them; she obviously knew that she had to do it. And she pressed the plungers, and just as she did, the lights went out in the house, one of the circuits went out. And I said “wait”, because my heart was wanting her to stay, and she said “no”, and continued to push the plunger in; she went unconscious straight away.
JV: Her last words to you were what?
KG: Her last words were, she’s frightened. And I thought she was 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”.
Cuts to scene of police cars outside the Gilderdale house, with “9th December 2008” at bottom of screen, then policeman putting on helmet on exiting the house.
Male news reader: Detectives are investigating the death of 31-year-old Lynn Gilderdale after they were called to a house in Stonegate, East Sussex, last Thursday …
Shows picture of Lynn, with 16th April 2009 at bottom of screen, then a news bulletin, then KG getting into a car on a rainy day.
Female news reader: … died after a 17-year struggle with ME has been charged with trying to kill her. Lynn Gilderdale’s … (fades out)
JV: So now it was not just a family matter; police and courts are involved. Today, Kay is due in Crown Court. Will she face a full trial, and on what charge?
KG: I’m anxious, because even though you have an idea of what’s supposed to happen today, I won’t know till I’m there and it happens. What I would like, obviously, is for them to drop the charge of attempted murder.
Cuts to outside court in Lewes.
JV: She has pleaded guilty to assisting Lynn’s suicide, but will never accept the other charge, attempted murder. Her family know that could mean life in jail.
KG: I’ll never plead guilty to that charge, no matter what they offer me. They can put me in a cell, they can do anything they want. I’d no right to force her to stay and suffer more.
Shows KG and others leaving court, same footage as at start of programme.
JV: Less than two hours later, the family emerge from court in shock. The Crown is pursuing the attempted murder charge. The trial date is set for January.
KG: It will never change, that I know I did the right thing for Lynn. She’s free, and at peace, where she needed to be.
Cuts to Lynn’s tree in a churchyard, with plaque reading “In loving memory of Lynn Gilderdale, 20th Sept 1977 - 4th Dec 2008” KG is holding a trowel and arranging things in the bed around the tree; then it cuts to footage of the House of Lords; 7th July 2009 at bottom of screen.
JV: Kay’s prosecution came as our lawmakers were trying to work out if it could ever be legal to help a suicide. In the House of Lords, some suggested that a relative that took a person abroad to die should not be arrested on their return.
Unidentified male peer: Nobody, in my view, has the stomach to prosecute in cases of compassionate assitance.
BC: By going with this amendment, we turn the traffic light from red to green on state-sanctioned assisted dying.
JV: Baroness Campbell’s impassioned plea won the day. She said it was too dangerous to relax the law.
Cuts to outside a court; Debbie Purdy emerges. 30th July 2009 at bottom of screen.
JV: But then, Debbie Purdy won a landmark appeal which reversed the argument. She wanted the assurance that if her husband helped her die, he would not be jailed. The Director of Public Prosecutions reacts by saying he’ll bring out guidelines.
KS: Because of the position Mrs Purdy’s in in particular, I’m going to issue an interim policy ready for the end of September.
Cuts to footage of a champagne bottle being opened, then cheers, then to KG sitting in front of Lynn’s tree, with children playing at school in the background.
JV: But as Debbie Purdy’s supporters celebrated, in Sussex, Kay was still left worrying she could be found guilty of attempting to murder her own child.
Cuts to home video footage of KG in her living room, with caption “Video diary, 24th August 2009, then to a woman removing a large cardboard box from the house and putting it in a van.
KG: The last week has been very difficult. I feel I have to clear things out in the house, and get everything organised because I don’t know what’s going to happen. The other thing that I’ve been doing is, she wanted me to have a sale for ME, so I’ve booked the village hall, so I’m going to have the sale that she wanted to have.
People shown bringing material into the village hall, then old ladies standing over cake, and men hanging a banner reading “25% ME Group, a support group for severe ME sufferers”.
JV: Kay is well supported locally. The sale in Lynn’s memory brings the village together. It is, at least, a distraction from the court case.
People shown in sale; KG stands with LS and her baby daughter Lynn.
LS: Lynn was a fantastic part of my life; I’ve given my newborn daughter Lynn’s name, just to keep that going. It just seems absolutely incredible that a mother who was so caring and loving and supportive could have had that charge thrown at her. I don’t understand it, I don’t think I ever will, and I don’t think many others do.
Shows KG pulling doors of village hall closed at end of sale, and lights going out.
JV: So Kay’s friends are hoping the DPP’s new guidelines will shed light on her case.
Cuts to interview with Kier Starmer, 23rd Sept 2009.
KS: What we’ve tried to do in the policy is distinguish between those who are vulnerable to the encouragement of others who may gain, on the one hand, and on the other hand, the family, um, compassionate sort of arrangements that are made in many tragic cases where people fear they may be prosecuted.
Cuts to outside KG’s house.
JV: Those words lift Kay’s spirits. The guidelines suggest that the help she gave Lynn was legal.
KG: More and more details have come out, and he [Kier Starmer] lists factors that indicate when somebody should be prosecuted, when they should not. They appear to me to be very clear and very helpful.
Cuts to BC in her office.
JV: Not everyone agrees. Just before Christmas, I met Baroness Campbell who’d argued so strongly in the House of Lords. The guidelines alarm her.
BC: They’re not just guidelines; they’re the beginning of the process. Once you open the door a crack, you’re beginning to sanction, or say to a culture, “yes, in some circumstance, it is right to mercy-kill disabled or terminally ill people. I would say to you: that’s very dangerous.
JV: Here you have a situation with a very ill — very ill daughter …
JV: Been ill for a long time, can’t move, she wants to die and she enlists the help of her mum; the next thing that happens is, she’s in court; that doesn’t feel right, does it?
BC: If we don’t send the strong message out that says, killing someone, helping them to commit suicide is wrong, and it’s against the law — if we don’t do that, the consequences are going to be far worse, and yes, if that means a day in court, and it will be tough, then that’s the price we have to pay for keeping safe, possibly hundreds of people in similar circumstances. I hope Kay, the loving mother in court, will understand why she’s there and I hope we take care of her.
Cuts to Kay on train. 19th November 2009 at bottom of screen.
JV: But she does not feel taken care of. With the guidelines out, Kay is still facing a trial. The charge is still attempted murder.
KG: The situation that I’m in shows that even with the interim guidelines, that people are still prosecuted.
JV: She’s going to Wales to see a man who used to be a prominent figure in public life.
KG: We’re on our way to go and see Chris Woodhead who’s got motor neurone disease, and it’s going to be very interesting to hear his feelings at what he’s going to have to face in the future.
Kay gets off train at an unidentified station and walks across a bridge; then footage of estuarine scenery in twilight with poll results on top.
JV: A poll carried out for this programme found that where a person is terminally ill, about three-quarters of those questioned thought friends and relatives should be able to assist without fear of prosecution. Chris Woodhead believes the existing law should be left alone.
KG shown getting out of car, then entering CW’s study and shaking hands with CW.
CW: Hello Kay, forgive me not getting up. Bit of a struggle. Really nice to see you.
JV: Chris knows that motor neurone disease will kill him. He simply wants control over when, and the right to choose who will help if he can’t do it himself.
CW: There will come a time when I will prefer to end it. That, of course, poses a question of timing. If you leave it too late, then you are dependent on your nearest and dearest, and there is still a great deal of uncertainty about where that leaves the person who has helped you.
JV: The DPP [Starmer] intended his guidelines to make things clearer. But Chris Woodhead believes they’ve actually made matters worse.
CW: On one hand, he’s saying that if somebody acts through good motives, that they’re not seeking to benefit personally from the death, then that’s OK, but of course the person who’s going to assist you may offer assistance out of the best possible motives, their love for you, but they are likely to benefit from your death, and possibly are likely to end up in court, being prosecuted
KG: I just felt such relief when I saw what I thought was going to be hope for people who are in this position, but then as time went on, I thought, it’s not enough.
CW: You know, I’d rather live with the grey situation that we’re in and rely upon the wisdom and experience of the individual doctor. I’m probably in a better position where we are than if the great and the good have pontificated and Parliament has ruled, and the so-called grey area has been clarified in a way that is more, you know, definite. I’m just not confident that we’re ever going to get to that clarity.
Cuts to Debbie Purdy’s husband playing violin, and Purdy watching, then to DP talking to KG.
JV: But clarity is precisely what people like Debbie Purdy are calling for. Her landmark case led directly to the DPP reviewing the current guidelines. If Debbie’s progressive MS [multiple sclerosis] becomes too much, she wants to be sure her husband, Omar, won’t be prosecuted if she chooses to die abroad with his help.
DP: Well, the idea of saying, “well, a fudge in the law, lack of clarity, let’s not talk about it, let’s not get it any clearer, it’s lack of respect for the democratic process. This is the only law in the United Kingdom where carrying out an act is legal but assisting in that act is illegal.
KG: You’re saying to somebody, “we respect your right, you can take your life, but yet you can’t tell somebody else that they can assist you if you’re not able to do it”. So it doesn’t make sense; the law doesn’t make sense as it stands.
DP: We’re asking politicians to pass a law that gives a guideline to enable patients to make choices for themselves and if they require help, to be able to ask for help.
Cuts to footage of car travelling through London.
JV: With a lot to think about, Kay goes back to Sussex. She’s burdened not only with the loss of her daughter, but with preparing to fight her corner in a court case that is now only weeks away.
KG: All the talk about new guidelines on assisted suicide and everything hasn’t made any difference to my case. When I was charged in the beginning, I had ideas of this charge being dropped, and now I feel that the trial is almost here and I really don’t know what to expect. I suppose in some ways, I’ve prepared myself for … anything.
Shows results of poll against London night scene - 48% Yes, 49% No, 3% Don’t Know.
JV: In our poll where, as in Lynn’s case, an illness is painful and incurable but not fatal, public opinion is pretty evenly split on friends on friends and relatives being able to assist without fear of prosecution.
BC: For those of us who have terminal illnesses or progessive disabilities, the law is there that says “no, thou shalt not kill us”, but it has a kind heart and understands the complex nature and the tragedies that surround some of these cases.
JV: If you had been Lynn’s mother, would you have said no?
BC: I’d like to think that I would have done. I think about whether I’d want to be helped on my way, and then think “goodness, what would that do to my husband for the rest of his life?”. For me, it’s as wrong to ask somebody to kill you as it is for someone to kill you. It’s not all one way.
Cuts to airport, with KG and friend pulling suitcases. 26th November 2009 at bottom of screen.
JV: Kay’s family are from Ireland. The bonds are strong. They’ve suggested getting together before she faces a judge and jury. It is very nearly a year since Lynn died.
Cuts to airport in Dublin; KG and friend are met by her brother, Vinnie Boles.
KG: Hi, how are you, OK?
VB: Not so bad.
JV: His brother Vinnie will toast the niece his sister is accused of trying to murder.
KG and VB shown walking into bar in Dublin.
KG: Hi everyone.
VB: Ladies and gentlemen, I’d like to propose a toast to Lynn as it is her anniversary, and I know she would take a lot of joy in seeing Kay smile, and will always be in her thoughts.
They chink their glasses together.
KG: All the support really does help me get through it; it’s helped me get through the last year, and I reckon Lynn is sitting there somewhere saying, “cheers, I’m in a better place”.
A slow tune is played on a piano; cuts to churchyard.
JV: Kay’s sister lives in the same house their grandparents once shared.
KG: It’s really nice; it’s still got that lovely peaceful feeling to it.
They approach a church; KG shown standing in front of a grave.
KG: My grandparents are buried here, and my mother is buried here as well. It’s certainly the wrong order of things to lose your children, a child, before you, but I never thought I’d outlive my children.
Shows close-up picture of Lynn’s face, then to KG at home.
KG: I didn’t know how long it would take for Lynn to die.
JV: When did you realise that Lynn had actually died?
KG: It was at ten past seven in the morning. I think I knew instantly.
JV: It took 30 hours for Lynn to die. The cause of death: a morphine overdose. Lynn injected the morphine into herself, of course, so what exactly did her mother do? The prosecution said she gave her crushed-up pills and injected her with air, and extra morphine, breaking off to surf the net for information on overdoses. She was unsure her daughter would die, so she took over.
Cuts to JV and KG at KG’s house.
JV: If what she was able to do on her own didn’t cause the end of her life, the state still seems to say at that point, it’s wrong for you to take over.
KG: Yes, but I felt that Lynn was dying after the morphine overdose. She started to show signs of distress with her breathing and I was really worried that she was suffering in some way. So I got a few tablets, again, not the cocktail the papers reported or that the prosecution made it sound to be. I crushed them, then gave them to her.
JV: So that is the moment where, for the first time in all of this, I guess, you have taken the initiative?
KG: Yes, I was trying to work out what I could give her that would stop the distress without causing her harm.
JV: What were you doing on the internet at this point? What was that for?
KG: They made it sound in court as though I’d searched the internet for ages and that I wasn’t with Lynn; any time I left Lynn, I had an intercom with me and I was running — I didn’t want to be away from her; I was running back and forth.
JV: Did you inject her with air?
KG: No, I don’t … I don’t remember injecting her with air.
JV: You phoned the euthanasia group, Exit …
JV: Why did you do that?
KG: I wanted advice; I wanted to know why she didn’t die with the amount of morphine that she had. I wanted to be with her, and to do whatever I could to make that time as comfortable as possible, and yes, the state is saying that once that point came where I started to administer things, that it was attempted murder, but it wasn’t; it was helping Lynn to be as comfortable as possible whilst adhering to her wishes.
Cuts to outside court, with KG and SG walking down the steps and facing the press. SG puts his arm around KG while an unidentified male pushes past her. 25th January 2010 at bottom of screen.
JV: At last, relief for the family; Kay is cleared. The jury took only two hours to throw the case out.
KG: Thank you all.
Unidentified man: Excuse me please (pushes past KG).
KG: I’m just very grateful for the outcome.
Cuts back to KG’s house.
KG: The hardest thing that I have ever experienced or ever will in my life, no matter what happens to me; there will be nothing that will compare to the pain and the heartbreak of watching my beautiful daughter leave this world.
Cuts back to outside BBC building.
JV: Well, since Kay Gilderdale’s acquittal, the Crown Prosecution Service has been widely criticised for pursuing that attempted murder charge against her. It says it accepts the jury’s verdict, but it is insisting that there was sufficient evidence to warrant the trial. You can find out more about this programme and of course about the poll that we’ve been reporting on by going to the Panorama website.
Preview of following programme, then credits.