TV presenter pays tribute to assisted suicide colleague saying a dog can die with more dignity
A DOG would not be treated as badly as woman who was forced to spend her final hours away from home after travelling to Switzerland to die, former BBC Crimewatch presenter Nick Ross said today.
Former TV producer Geraldine McClelland, 61, who was diagnosed with lung and liver cancer, called for a change to the law after travelling to a Dignitas clinic in Zurich where she died yesterday.
In a letter published hours after her death, Ms McClelland said she was not sad, but "angry that because of the cowardice of our politicians I can't die in the country I was born in, in my own home".
Ross, who was friends with Ms McClelland after working with her on Crimewatch, said: "We wouldn't treat a dog so badly."
He said: "Like Gerry, I take it to be self-evident that people facing imminent death should be allowed to manage the means and time of their departure.
"Yet suicide is only acceptable when one has what is normally a transient motive like depression.
"It is legal when able-bodied but not when someone is so ill they need assistance."
Writing for the Dignity in Dying blog, he went on: "It is permissible when causing terrible distress to others, such as throwing oneself in front of a moving train, but not when done in hospital with those you love beside you and with the help of willing and caring clinicians who are used to seeing death.
"Instead Gerry had to abandon her home and her country and be driven across Europe (she was too sick to fly and needed oxygen) to end her life in a light commercial estate in an impersonal Swiss suburb."
He added: "It sometimes seems that each concession to freedom in this country has had to be dragged out of a reluctant and controlling instinct that someone else knows best."
Ross acknowledged the need for strong protections, but said: "The principle is clear: self-determination is at the core of any concept of human rights.
"Just as no doctor or nurse should be obliged to have a hand in something they find morally objectionable, so no brave soul like Gerry should be abandoned to die at the choosing and timing of uncontrollable cancer."
He went on: "Never let organised religion be a trump card to imprison free spirits like Gerry in its own dogmas.
"No, bishops and legislators have no call to criticise Gerry. Rather they should heed her, set moral cowardice aside and make death for people like her more humane.
"I and others who knew Gerry won't rest until that day comes - and, of course, it will come.
In her letter, Ms McClelland said: "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."
She said her dying wish was for people to talk about her death, urging readers of the letter not to feel sad for her, but to "turn it into a fight to change the law so that other people don't have to travel abroad to die".
"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," she wrote.
"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."
Sheilagh Matheson, who was friends with Ms McClelland for more than 40 years, said: "Gerry decided very early in life that, given any choice in the matter, we should be able to control the way and circumstances in which we die, just as we take major decisions about our life.
"It was not a spur-of-the-moment decision. It was something she had thought about for many, many years."
Ms Matheson, 60, said: "She didn't want to endure the physical degradation that she knew she would suffer.
"All the palliative care she was receiving made her feel very doped-up, and she didn't feel she had control over her mental faculties.
"She wanted to get out while she was as near to the top as possible, rather than just crumble in a hospital bed or hospice."
Paying tribute to her friend, she added: "In many ways she epitomised how women's lives have changed over the years.
"She was single, very independent, very determined - she called a spade a spade.
"But she loved looking good, was completely open and honest. She was great fun, and stood up for what she believed in."
Ms McClelland, retired 10 years ago after working for the BBC, producing programmes including Watchdog, Food And Drink, Health Check and Crimewatch.
Her letter was released, in accordance with her wishes, by the campaign group Dignity in Dying, which wants a change to the law.