Esther Rantzen’s decision to join the campaign to legalise assisted dying, in the light of uncertainty about her cancer prognosis, has rekindled and broadened a debate that has been simmering for many years.
Talking on the latest BBC Today podcast, Rantzen disclosed that she had recently joined Dignitas, the Swiss organisation that helps people who are terminally ill to end their lives. Now 83, the television broadcaster and founder of Childline and Silverline, said that her cancer was now being treated with what she called a miracle drug, but that if it didn’t work, then she wanted to be able to end her life while she is still able to without exposing her family to prosecution, were they to accompany her to Switzerland.
This is the whole point of the UK campaign to legalise assisted dying. Supporters don’t just want people to be able to end their lives at a time of their choosing, but to be able to seek help to do it legally, without having to go abroad and without leaving their nearest and dearest, or indeed anyone they tell beforehand, to the risk of prosecution in the UK courts.
Rantzen speaks, as she has always done, with the assurance of someone who knows her own mind and wants others to know it, too. I come to this from an entirely personal and less public perspective. My late husband had Parkinson’s. He was of a secular cast of mind, and from the earliest months of the diagnosis (when he was still in his forties), he was adamant that he did not want to hang around as his faculties withered and died. His mother had had Parkinson’s; both of us knew what it entailed. He joined Dignitas, signed petitions and left a bequest.
In the early years, his Parkinson’s was well controlled with the standard drugs.