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The last kiss: Family's final portrait before mother dies in Swiss suicide clinic
The last picture - Jackie Meacock with her children outside the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland, taken minutes before she went inside and took her own life
This is the last portrait of a family together – taken minutes before their mother went inside a Swiss suicide clinic to die.
Jackie Meacock said her last goodbyes to her children in a sunny garden outside the Dignitas centre last week.
After years of suffering with the neurological disorder dystonia, the 71-year-old from Brighton chose to take her own life with her family at her side.
People with dystonia suffer muscle contractions which cause twisting and repetitive movements.
Jackie said her symptoms were so bad that she had no will to carry on living.
Her daughter Donella Preisler said Jackie had been “very frightened – but ready to die”.
She said: “Mum just fell asleep. It was very peaceful and just how she wanted it to be.”
In December, Jackie recorded a video diary calling for assisted suicide to be legalised.
She said she was spending every “waking minute” looking forward to being asleep so she could escape the constant pain.
In one diary entry she complained: “If I was a dog, you would put me down.”
Five months ago Jackie contacted Dignitas and became an official member after paying an expensive joining fee.
After repeated knockbacks, she was finally given the “green light” to travel to the clinic earlier this month.
The Dignitas doctors gave her a maximum of eight days to make her arrangements and fly to Switzerland to die.
Donella said: “She was very determined. As soon as the clinic got in touch she started booking flights and hotels.
“We all said to her she didn’t have to do this now but she said she was ready.
“There was a big part of me that thought please don’t do this. But I could see how determined she was and we all realised this was really going to happen.”
As the day approached, family and friends visited Jackie’s home to say a final farewell.
Donella said: “She had to say goodbye to her grandchildren and some of her oldest friends. We told people not to cry in front of her because it made things worse, but it was hard.”
Two days before she was due to die, Jackie flew to Switzerland with daughters Donella and Nina, where she met her other daughter Caron and son David.
The family checked into a hotel where they were met by a Dignitas doctor.
Donella said: “He spoke to mum to make sure she was still committed to dying. After their chat he said he was happy to write the death prescription.”
The next day, the family travelled to a neat bungalow in the middle of an industrial estate where Jackie had decided to end her life.
Two Dignitas volunteers met Jackie and her children at the door and ushered them into a beautifully furnished room with a leather sofa.
In the tiny kitchen next door another volunteer made the family cups of coffee and handed out chocolates.
Donella said: “We kept on asking Mum if she was sure this was what she wanted, but she just nodded.
“I know she was frightened but I told her it must be like falling asleep.
“We all just sat there quiet and tearful and trying to be strong.”
Outside, there was a peaceful garden with stone paving and a small bench.
Jackie’s children took her out into the sun, hugged and kissed her, and took the last pictures of the whole family together.
After a time, Jackie said: “I think I’m ready for the first drink now.”
Her children asked her over and over again if she was sure, but her mind was made up.
The family went back inside and Jackie told a volunteer she was ready.
Donella said: “The first drink is to stop you being sick. She drank it down and the volunteer told her she had to wait another half an hour before she should take the final cupful.
“She made herself comfortable in a cushioned chair. We covered her with a blanket because she said she was cold.
“We sat around talking with her, crying, and asking her if she could stay for just another hour with us.
“But she said she was ready now. She kept on looking at the clock and asking if it had been half an hour yet.”
When the time was up, the volunteers moved forward from the back of the room with a video camera.
Under Swiss law the person committing suicide must make a final statement and the death must be filmed.
Donella said: “We knew we only had a few moments left with her. We asked her again if she was sure and she said she was.”
Jackie told the camera she was ready to die and that it was her decision alone. Then one of the volunteers brought her the final drink.
Donella said: “He handed it to her and she downed it in one without hesitating.
“She said it tasted disgusting so we gave her some chocolate to take the bitterness away. We were all crying.
“Soon she said she could feel herself falling asleep.
“She kept on telling us she loved us over and over again. We were all holding her hands and in tears.
“Then after about 20 minutes she just slipped away.”
Afterwards, volunteers told the grief-stricken family there was no rush to leave the clinic.
But Donella said: “Once mum had gone, we didn’t want to go but we just couldn’t stay.
“Back at the hotel we found she had divided up her shoes and her things for us to take back.
“The hardest part was just leaving her and getting a taxi to the airport. It felt like we had just left her lying there.
“But I know it was the right thing to do. She was so brave.”