Judge frees 'caring' daughter who aided her mother's suicide

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A DAUGHTER who admitted helping her elderly mother to commit suicide by giving her sleeping tablets then smothering her with a pillow walked free from court yesterday.

Gillian Jennison, who denied murder at an earlier hearing, was sentenced to 12 months' probation by a Leeds Crown Court judge for aiding and abetting her 83-year-old mother's suicide.

Mrs Justice Smith said it was plain, however, that Jennison, 53, of Keighley, West Yorkshire, was a "caring and loving daughter". She said Jennison had only acted after her mother, Annie Wilkes, who was suffering from dementia, pleaded with her to help her die.

The judge told Jennison: "What you did was done in the honest belief that it was what your mother wanted... there was no hint of an ulterior motive behind your conduct."

Jennison, a lecturer in trade union studies at Bradford University, was praised by the judge for her "considerable courage" in admitting to police what she had done. But Mrs Justice Smith added: "It must not be thought that where a friend or member of the family takes this kind of step it will necessarily be treated in the way in which I intend to treat you."

James Goss QC, for the prosecution, told the court that Jennison was "a caring and loving daughter". Her mother a widow, had been diagnosed as suffering from dementia in 1996. She had been admitted to hospital and spent several periods in a rest home.

On July 18 last year she was taken to her daughter's house in a confused state, saying she felt dreadful and "wishing she was dead". Jennison told police after the death that her mother could not stand the thought of going back into a nursing home and wanted to die.

Jennison and her mother had been drinking sherry when Mrs Wilkes asked for her sleeping pills, which her daughter gave her. Mrs Wilkes took a number of the pills and Jennison took some herself. She then threw the packet away in a skip because she was afraid of "getting into trouble". When she returned, her mother was still breathing but unconscious. Jennison put a pillow over her head and held it there until she stopped breathing.

Mr Goss said Jennison later explained that "it was the way her mother asked her and the state she was in" that made her feel that not to go along with her wishes would have been very cruel. "She did not consider the consequences. She just wanted to help her mother," he said.

After her mother's death, Jennison called a doctor. When he arrived she immediately admitted what she had done and police were called.

Michael Harrison QC, defending, said the case showed "what a perilously fine line there is in law between assisting suicide and homicide". He stressed this was a "wholly exceptional" case.

Dr Andrew Fergusson, chairman of Healthcare Opposed to Euthanasia, said: "Whilst there may appear to be extenuating circumstances in these emotional cases, it is vitally important that the law continues to protect the lives of all of its citizens."