Earlier this week, a mother named Kay Gilderdale was acquitted of the attempted murder of her daughter Lynn in December 2008. Lynn Gilderdale had been bed-bound since the age of 14 with severe ME (myalgic encephalomyelitis). She was paraplegic (earlier on in her illness, she had been functionally quadriplegic, but she remained without feeling or movement in her legs) and unable to speak or swallow. The Daily Mail printed an interview with her mother in today’s edition. (More: Sarah Ismail @ Pickled Politics.)
Some people have compared this case to the murder case involving Frances Inglis, who murdered her brain-damaged son with a heroin overdose in November 2008. She was found guilty last week and received a life sentence, minimum nine years (that is the minimum that can be passed for murder). Why did two mothers who killed (or may have killed) their chronically sick adult children get such substantially different outcomes: one a life sentence, the other a conditional discharge for assisting a suicide?
Well, the differences are not subtle. Kay Gilderdale had cared for her daughter round the clock for seventeen years. Frances Inglis’s son had always been cared for in hospitals and had been ill for only a couple of yeras. But most importantly, Lynn Gilderdale had decided for herself that she wanted to die, and had disclosed this in her online diary (most likely on LiveJournal, where she went under the pseudonym Jessie Oliver and the handle _chaotictears_); the Mail printed an extract from that on Tuesday. Her parents had both tried to dissuade her from taking her own life.
Frances Inglis seems to have decided as soon as she learned that her son had suffered a brain injury that he was as good as dead. Without being able to ask him his wishes, she attempted to overdose him. When she failed the first time and was banned from seeing him, she went to great lengths to ensure that there was a second time, and that she killed him, more than a year later. That is not assisting a suicide. That is a twisted version of a mercy killing. It is premeditated murder.
By the way, although I made my views on assisted suicide and euthanasia clear here in the past, in the case of Kay and Lynn Gilderdale, I feel too sad to be able to condemn anyone. I didn’t know her, but I realised that I’d seen her on a documentary about ME in the 1990s (you can see a five-minute clip from it, featuring Lynn with Dr Anne Macintyre, who was recovering from it at the time, in this YouTube video; the last third of it is in this one which also features Lynn as well as a young male patient who was forced into a psychiatric unit). Back then, doctors were forcing some young ME patients into psychiatric hospitals because they refused to believe that it was a real condition rather than a psychological one, and this kind of behaviour continued into the last decade and may have led to the death of one sufferer, Sophia Mirza, whose post-mortem showed abnormalities in her spinal cord. It is rather astonishing that some doctors see someone paralysed and obviously in pain, unable to tolerate light or sound, and think that this is a mental rather than a physical illness.
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