Please talk about this

Charles Cowling


This press release was issued this morning by Dignity in Dying following Geraldine McClelland’s death at the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland:


08 Dec 2011: My dying wish: please talk about my death
In September I decided to travel abroad to die. Having made the necessary arrangements, in October I contacted Dignity in Dying and asked for their help in making my views on assisted dying public. Below is an open letter to anyone and everyonewho is interested and concerned about the issue. I have asked Dignity in Dying to distribute it to the media on my behalf when I am in Zurich.

My name is Geraldine McClelland and I have chosen to die today.

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 have chosen to travel abroad to die because I can not 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 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 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.

Geraldine McClelland

13 thoughts on “Please talk about this

  1. Charles Cowling
    Richard Piercy

    I agree, that is a strong argument to stop the rush to get to somewhere sensible before one is incapable, probably live longer with the “exit insurance” in the cupboard and about 25% probability, if I understand the Oragan 2010 figures correctly, of letting the condition take its course.

    Charles Cowling
  2. Charles Cowling

    It’s a very liberal state, and the law is supported by 70%+ of its inhabitants – so I guess it was predisposed.

    For me, that standout info is “The option of a dignified, hastened death gives terminally ill people the hope and comfort to carry on.” Think how many people who go to kill themselves in Switzerland might be content to let nature take its course knowing there’s a lethal dose in the bedside cabinet.

    Charles Cowling
  3. Charles Cowling
    Richard Piercy

    Well Oregan seem to be providing informative statistics! How did they get there? It would be useful to see the content of the debate leading to the act, build on success.

    Charles Cowling
  4. Charles Cowling

    You might like to have a pop at this, too, Richard:

    As for unintended consequences (see RR above) this from Wikipedia: From the act’s passage to 2008, 401 patients used the act, representing an estimated 19.4 deaths per 10,000 total deaths in the same time period.[4] The average patient age was 70, with 81.8 percent of patients suffering from malignant neoplasms (cancer).[5] All but five of the 401 deaths involved a lethal medication of either secobarbital or pentobarbital; of those patients ingesting medicine received under the act, 95.1% experienced no complications.
    An independent study published in the October 2007 issue of the Journal of Medical Ethics reports there was “no evidence of heightened risk for the elderly, women, the uninsured, people with low educational status, the poor, the physically disabled or chronically ill, minors, people with psychiatric illnesses including depression, or racial or ethnic minorities, compared with background populations.”[6]

    Then there’s this important information from here: : In 2000, 68 qualified Compassion of Oregon clients, who later died, requested access to Oregon’s assisted dying law. Of the 47 not reported on above, 33 died of their underlying disease, six stopped eating and drinking, five were terminally sedated and three died after requiring high doses of pain medication that probably hastened the time of their deaths.

    Additionally, 12 of the 68 had planned a suicide by violent means. All changed their minds after speaking with Compassion in Dying. Only four of the 12 eventually hastened their deaths.

    “The option of a dignified, hastened death gives terminally ill people the hope and comfort to carry on,” said Barbara Coombs Lee, president of Compassion in Dying Federation. “Many more people request access to Oregon’s law than actually use it. That important part of the law’s history hasn’t been told. It helps far more people than those who ultimately hasten their deaths.”

    Lastly, here’s a god website with an informative blog:

    Happy reading!

    Charles Cowling
  5. Charles Cowling
    Richard Piercy

    In the iterests of informed debate I am working through;
    (first few hits on Google!) better late than never?

    Charles Cowling
  6. Charles Cowling

    I agree we cannot risk putting people to death for convenience’s sake, the picture your horrific vision of a future Orwellian, ethics-free zone evokes, Richard. But on the other hand, by denying the right of self destination to all, we would be protecting the interests of the vulnerable by prolonging the suffering of the innocent. Why should they have to pay in pain for their fellow human beings’ anticipated future lack of nobility? Why should the Netherlands’ mistake be bound to be repeated? Is your opinion of human beings so low? Can we not aspire? I don’t believe you really think these things, so why this sharp division between right and wrong?

    It’s a tricky one, I agree, hard to balance; but balance is what we need to ensure we don’t victimize either those who are truly suffering or those who are merely causing us a problem. A blanket rule that overlooks the interests of one party in preference of those of the other is beneath our moral capability, and should not be considered.

    Yes, there are better cures for fears of social isolation, or of becoming a burden on the fit and healthy, than acquiescing to people’s requests that we kill them. We could in many instances, given the will, simply care for them better; perhaps at the sacrifice of one of our many expensive and unnecessary societal luxuries, such as war or poverty.

    Reading between your lines on this subject, here and elsewhere on this blog, I infer you’re against the idea of legal euthanasia, and the reasons you give always include the fear of losing control. Yet it is an issue of control that we have before us here. It is our right to decide that human life is sacred, and have control of an environment wherein none shall be taken by another, and yes, I get your point (I think we all have by now) about leaning over a hospital bed with a syringe.

    But is it truly our right to decide who may decide to die, even if it is for what we perceive to be ‘simply a personal preference’? I doubt there are many human beings who wake up one morning and think, ‘I fancy dying today.’

    Charles Cowling
  7. Charles Cowling
    Richard Rawlinson

    The best way to get that debate progressed? Sound ethical and practical reasons that beat the objections.

    Although the need for euthanasia to relieve pain and suffering is the justification given, and the one the public accepts in supporting legalisation, research shows that dying people request euthanasia far more frequently because of fear of social isolation or being a burden on others, than pain. Sufficient justification?

    Some pro-euthanasia advocates argue that respect for people’s rights to autonomy and self-determination means competent adults have a right to die at a time of their choosing, and the state has no right to prevent them from doing so. For example, they believe an elderly couple, where the husband is seriously ill and the wife healthy, should be allowed to carry out their suicide pact.

    One of the people responsible for legalising euthanasia in the Netherlands 30 years ago recently admitted publicly that it has been a serious mistake. Initially, euthanasia was limited to terminally ill, competent adults, with unrelievable pain and suffering, who repeatedly asked for euthanasia and gave their informed consent to it. Now more than 500 deaths a year, where the adult was incompetent or consent not obtained, result from euthanasia. Once legalised, it cannot be controlled. Justification for it expands greatly, even to the extent that simply a personal preference to be dead will suffice.

    Charles Cowling
  8. Charles Cowling

    Thank you for this, Richard. The best way? Pressing necessity, perhaps – irresistible public demand. It’s certainly growing.

    Charles Cowling
  9. Charles Cowling
    Richard Piercy

    I think that given the political courage UK laws can be devised to allow people to arrange their death AND protect the vulnerable, and they should be. I don’t feel I need to set out my arguments for and against here, that can wait until a realistic debate is opened. The question is what is the best way to get that debate progressed and the laws devised?

    Charles Cowling
  10. Charles Cowling

    Hear! Hear! What Geraldine has done takes great courage – even more so for her family, but how sad that she couldn’t end her life in her own country in her own way. Making arrangements to go to Zurich meant booking rooms and flights in advance, yet the moment of ‘enough is enough’ may not be that easy to predict. For that reason alone, she has had to make an advanced decision about when she is ready to die yet it is surely something which becomes obvious, not something one can predict in a diary. That aspect of having to travel and book to do this saddens me particularly. At least her suffering is at an end now. RIP Geraldine.

    Charles Cowling
  11. Charles Cowling

    I’m trying to concentrate on the compassion, respect and gratitude I feel for this woman, and not on the rage and despair I feel about our sluggish, ill-informed, mediocre, coarse political culture.

    We throw mud at our politicians, perhaps rightly, for moral cowardice and mediocrity; we vote for them. They don’t get there without us.

    We must continue to work for huge changes in our culture’s awareness of mortality, and then, eventually, as the rusty old wheels of the body politic clunk away, a party may actually get elected that will do something about this.

    If we all stopped denying the inevitability of death and dealt with it frankly, openly and compassionately, then someone in Geraldine’s situation could stay where she surely wanted to be when she died – at home.

    Charles Cowling
  12. Charles Cowling

    I have added one now, Simon.

    Charles Cowling
  13. Charles Cowling
    Simon Ferrar

    No one can stand in the shoes of another and make a judgement on what is right for them.

    We can only, honestly (and hopefully) judge our own end-of-life circumstances.

    My heart goes out to all of Geraldine’s family and all of you who knew Geraldine, in the knowledge that you couldn’t all be together today, at her home, when she died. I cry with you.

    I didn’t know Geraldine but I do so admire her determination and courage; to arrange your own death and then publicise the reason for it, is in my opinion, both extraordinary and dignified.

    I hope and trust that this small mention promotes more discussion. Those in charge please take note.

    The existence of Digitas in the UK consciousness is a travesty – 21st century politicians and policy-makers should have the balls to confront the issues of assisted death; let those that are able, make their own end-of-life decisions and let them exercise their right to death in a place of their choosing.

    Let the law continue to protect the vunerable and the un-aware.

    PS If any one has a photo of Geraldine in life it would be lovely to see her.

    Charles Cowling

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