Dame Esther Rantzen hails ‘historic’ assisted dying legislation at Holyrood

Veteran broadcaster Dame Esther Rantzen has hailed “historic” assisted dying legislation that will be introduced at Holyrood on Thursday.

The TV presenter, who has revealed she is considering travelling to Switzerland for an assisted death after being diagnosed with stage four lung cancer, said those who are terminally ill should have the “right to choose”.

She was speaking as Liberal Democrat MSP Liam McArthur prepared to publish a Bill at the Scottish Parliament that, if passed, will allow people living in Scotland with a terminal illness to be given help to end their life.

Dame Esther said: “I want to congratulate the Scottish Parliament for prioritising this debate so that they can carefully consider this crucial issue and scrutinise this historic assisted dying Bill.

“The current law is cruel, complicated and causes terrible suffering to vulnerable people.

“I have received dozens of letters from people describing the agonising deaths of those they loved. This is literally a life and death issue, and I believe terminally ill patients like me need and deserve the right to choose this option if our lives become intolerable.”

Former nurse Patricia Donoghue was left with PTSD after watching her husband Kevan die from cancer (My Death My Decision/PA)

The 69-year-old, from Glasgow, was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder after watching her husband Kevan die from cancer eight years ago.

He was told he had a rare form of bile duct cancer 18 months before that, with the disease leaving him unable to eat or drink in his final three weeks of life.

Mrs Donoghue said her husband, who had worked in social care prior to retiring, had been in constant pain.

She told the PA news agency: “He accepted death, but why did he have to suffer like that for three weeks?

Liam McArthur, centre right, will publish legislation on Thursday that aims to introduce assisted dying for terminally ill people in Scotland (Jane Barlow/PA)

“He would have said ‘I’ve tried. I’ve had enough, I’ve done enough. I want to go’.

“We think of Britain as being advanced, but we are not.

“Leaving people to suffer in the final stages of their life is far from advanced – it’s cruel.

“I can’t change what happened to Kevan, but I want it to change for others in the future.

“People are suffering and having a horrible time of it, all being made worse by this cruel law.

“You can’t sit on the fence with this issue, it needs to change.”

Sarah Wootton, chief executive of Dignity in Dying, said the legislation is an “important milestone towards terminally ill people in Scotland having the choice at the end of their lives that is so urgently needed”.

Scottish Liberal Democrat MSP Liam McArthur, the MSP proposing assisted dying laws for Scotland
Liam McArthur’s Bill marks the third time MSPs will have considered the issue (Fraser Bremner/PA)

“It also parks the issue of assisted dying firmly on Westminster’s doorstep.”

Mr McArthur’s Bill marks the third time MSPs will have considered the issue, with previous attempts to change the law by independent MSP Margo MacDonald – who later died as a result of Parkinson’s disease – and Green MSP Patrick Harvie both failing to secure enough votes to proceed.

However, the Liberal Democrat MSP has said he believes the “political mood has changed” since the issue was last before Holyrood in 2015.

His Bill would require two doctors – including one with no prior relationship with the patient – to confirm the person is terminally ill and also has the capacity to request an assisted death.

In addition, there would be a waiting period of two weeks before a patient could be given the medication needed for an assisted death, which they would have to be able to take themselves.

Doctors and others opposed to the procedure would be able to exempt themselves from being involved, and there would also be a requirement for anyone requesting an assisted death to have lived in Scotland for at least a year beforehand.

The Bill is being introduced at Holyrood a week after proposals for an assisted dying law in Jersey were published.

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