Dame Esther Rantzen calls for assisted dying free vote after joining Dignitas

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Dame Esther Rantzen calls for assisted dying free vote after joining Dignitas

The much-loved Jewish broadcaster says she feels it is 'important that the law catches up with what the country wants'

Dame Esther Rantzen
Dame Esther Rantzen

Dame Esther Rantzen has said she is considering the option of assisted dying if her lung cancer treatment does not improve her condition.

The 83-year-old Childline founder and broadcaster, who revealed in May that her cancer had progressed to stage four, has joined Swiss organisations Dignitas.

In an interview with BBC’s The Today Podcast, the legendary Jewish broadcaster called for a free vote on assisted dying as she feels it is “important that the law catches up with what the country wants”.

Speaking to Nick Robinson and Amol Rajan, she said her next scan in a few weeks’ time will tell her “whether the miracle drug is performing its miracle or whether it’s given up”.

She added: “I have joined Dignitas. I have in my brain thought, well, if the next scan says nothing’s working I might buzz off to Zurich – but it puts my family and friends in a difficult position because they would want to go with me.

“And that means that the police might prosecute them. So we’ve got to do something. At the moment, it’s not really working, is it?”

Assisted suicide is banned in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, with a maximum prison sentence of 14 years.

The Health and Social Care Committee is due to publish its report into assisted dying and assisted suicide in England and Wales, having launched an inquiry in December 2022 to examine different perspectives in the debate.

Asked what she would do if she was made prime minister for the week, Dame Esther said: “I would get them to do a free vote on assisted dying.

“I think it’s important that the law catches up with what the country wants.”

She said that her family has said it is her decision to make, adding: “I explained to them that actually I don’t want their last memories of me to be painful because if you watch someone you love having a bad death, that memory obliterates all the happy times and I don’t want that to happen.

“I don’t want to be that sort of victim in their lives.”

Dame Esther said she was unsure if she would see her last birthday on June 22, so it has been “very unexpected” that she has made it to the Christmas period.

She added: “Anything can happen, I live in a forest, a tree can fall on me.

“I’ve got to drop off my perch for some reason, and I’m 83 damn it, so I should be jolly grateful and indeed am.”

Dame Prue Leith, 83, is also a long-standing campaigner on the issue of choice for terminally ill people, having witnessed her brother David die a painful death from bone cancer in 2012.

In May, the Great British Bake Off judge said at an event hosted by Dignity In Dying, for which she is a patron of, that MPs show “a lack of courage” and “harm” their constituents by not changing the law to legalise assisted dying.

Dame Esther became a household name at the BBC and is perhaps best known for presenting That’s Life! – a programme featuring a mix of investigations, topical issues and entertainment – from 1973 to 1994.

In addition to her success as a journalist and broadcaster, she set up children’s charity Childline in 1986.

In 2006, the charity – which offers counselling and support for children and young people in the UK up until the age of 19 – became part of the The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC).

In addition, Dame Esther also set up The Silver Line in 2013, a charity which supports elderly people in the UK who are battling loneliness.

She was made a DBE in 2015 for services to children and older people due to her charity work.

• The full interview with Dame Esther Rantzen on The Today Podcast will be available on BBC Sounds on 19 December.

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