Wed, 27 October 2021

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Personal Stories

Geraldine McClelland (1950 to 2011)

My name is Geraldine McClelland and I have chosen to die today (7 December 2011).

I am 61 years old and am dying from lung and liver cancer, which metastasised from my breast cancer two years ago. I spent my working life at the BBC, producing programmes such as Watchdog, Food and Drink, Health Check and Crimewatch. I was fortunate to be able to retire ten years ago and have been able to thoroughly enjoy my retirement, travelling the world. The lung cancer is now causing me serious breathing problems, meaning I am largely confined to my flat.

I have chosen to travel abroad to die because I cannot have the death I want here in the UK. I would like to be able to choose to take medication to end my life if my suffering becomes unbearable for me, at home, with my family and friends around me. But the law in this country prevents me from doing so. As a result I am travelling abroad to take advantage of Switzerland’s compassionate law. I was worried this option would be taken away from me when the Swiss people were asked to vote on whether British people (and other non-Swiss) should be allowed to continue to have an assisted death there. Thankfully they voted overwhelmingly to continue to let people like me have the death I choose, albeit in a foreign country.

I am not sad that I will die today. I am angry that because of the cowardice of our politicians I can’t die in the country I was born in, in my own home, but I am not sad. I feel sure this is the right decision for me and I am relieved that I won’t be forced to suffer any more. Please don’t feel sad for me either. If you feel anything at all when you read this letter then please turn it into a fight to change the law so that other people don’t have to travel abroad to die, and that those who are unable to because they can’t travel, or can’t afford the fees don’t have to attempt suicide at home or continue to suffer against their will. In that respect I am one of the lucky ones.

I believe that as part of my end-of-life care, which has otherwise been good, I should have been allowed to choose not to endure the last weeks of my life, and I believe you should have that choice when you are dying too. I don’t believe that my brother and sister should have to break the law so that they can be with me when I die. Your loved ones should not be in that position either. My decision is made, I choose to die on my own terms and with my family around me in Zurich, and it’s too late to change the law for me, but please, if you care about this issue at all, please make your voice heard. I appreciate that it is a difficult subject, but, when dying cannot be avoided, let us be compassionate enough and tolerant enough to respect choice.

Steve King (1954 to 2012)

Written by his wife Sheila

My husband Steve was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) in 2002. Over the next ten years, MS steadily attacked his nerve cells, robbing my bright and active husband of the use of his body and mind.

It was heartbreaking to watch Steve lose the ability to do all the things he enjoyed. His illness forced him to leave a job he had excelled at.

He had to give up the dancing he’d loved, and as time went on he found himself struggling to follow the plot of a film, hold a conversation with a loved one or even look after himself in the most basic way.

Steve realised at an early stage the inevitable consequences of his condition for himself and his family.

He saw his future as a dark time of being trapped within his own body, and he had no way of knowing how quickly the disease would progress. We had talked about the possibility of travelling to Dignitas in Switzerland at some point in the future. But Steve was afraid I might face criminal prosecution if I helped him go there.

So one day when I was at work, he committed suicide alone at home. He bravely chose to do so while he still could, rather than risk becoming physically incapable of taking his own life.

Had my husband been allowed to choose when to end his life, he would have enjoyed a longer and happier one. And he could have faced the end not in a final moment of loneliness and fear, but with those he loved by his side.

Colin Marriage (1972 to 2012)

Written by his sister Kelley

When my brother Colin was diagnosed with terminal cancer last October, aged just 40, we reassured him that pain relief and care is so good these days that he would be able to die peacefully and in comfort, and that we would be with him. The care that Colin received at the end of his life was excellent.

He decided to die in hospital and the staff were fantastic. They moved a bed into the room so that his partner could be with him, helped us to organise a beautiful and moving wedding and gave him all the care and treatment he needed. The doctors did all they could within the law to help him.

Despite their best efforts Colin did not have the death he wished for. In the week leading up to his death Colin asked his doctor how long he had left - when the doctor told him he expected him to live for about another week he cried – the first time I had seen him cry since he was a child - not because he had so little time left but because he was in such pain, unable to eat or sleep properly, and could not stop being sick.

He simply could not bear the thought of another week of life. He asked many times why his suffering was being prolonged, and one of the last things he said to me was that it wasn’t right to treat people in such a way.

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