Dame Esther Rantzen has called for a choice on assisted dying next year, while saying that families watching someone go through palliative care can have their memories of them “obliterated”.
The 83-year-old journalist and broadcaster, who has stage four lung cancer, has urged MPs to hold a debate when Parliament returns in 2024 and said any vote has to take place outside of the party whip system.
She told the Mirror: “I think as a humane decision to have the debate as soon as possible, to have a free vote, would be right for millions of people – at least we would discuss it.”
The Childline founder revealed a few weeks ago that she has joined the Dignitas assisted dying clinic in Switzerland as she contemplates the option if her cancer does not improve.
Dame Esther said a Deltapoll, which indicated strong public support, is due to people feeling “that’s all we’re asking for, is the choice”.
“We’re not asking for this to be imposed on anyone, people have very strong beliefs, some religious beliefs, which would make it impossible for them, we fully understand that,” she also said.
“But the rest of us I think feel that we want to be able to choose a death which does not mean our family has to watch us suffering.
“I think for me that is my principle concern because I know a memory of a bad death, a painful death, somebody who is longing to die but is being kept alive and suffering, that memory obliterates previous memories of happiness, or can do.
“What we don’t want now is for people who are adamantly against assisted dying to impose their views on us.”
An inquiry into perspectives on assisted dying in England and Wales was launched in December 2022 and the Health and Social Care Committee is due to publish its report on the issue.
Currently, assisted suicide is banned in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, with a maximum prison sentence of 14 years.
Best known for presenting That’s Life! – a programme featuring a mix of investigations, topical issues and entertainment – from 1973 to 1994, Dame Esther also set up children’s charity Childline in 1986.
The charity has since become part of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC).