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Dame Esther Rantzen might not ‘live long enough’ to see assisted dying debated

Dame Esther Rantzen has said she might not “live long enough” to see assisted dying debated again in Parliament.

In 2023 the 83-year-old journalist and broadcaster, who has stage four lung cancer, urged MPs to hold a debate when Parliament returned in 2024 and said any vote has to take place outside the party whip system.

The Childline founder told BBC’s The Today Podcast in December that she had joined Dignitas, an assisted dying clinic in Switzerland, and said she would consider the option if her lung cancer treatment does not improve her condition.

SpongeBob FancyPants Charity Auction – London
Dame Esther Rantzen and her daughter Rebecca Wilcox (Yui Mok/PA)

Her daughter, TV presenter Rebecca Wilcox, said she found it “surprising” when her mother revealed she had joined the clinic.

Asked when she was made aware, Wilcox told ITV1 daytime programme Loose Women on Wednesday: “Probably the same time as you! It was a little surprising.

“She likes surprising us and she likes keeping us on our toes.

“I mean I’ve always known how she feels about death and dying, she’s done a lot of work around it.

“She’s done documentaries, she’s done newspaper articles and books and so we’ve always known that the last thing she wants is for our memories of her to be replaced with a traumatic death.

Royal visit to Devon and Cornwall
The then-Duchess of Cornwall shakes hands with Dame Esther Rantzen (Chris Jackson/PA)

“And a traumatic death involves a patient in pain. So if she’s in pain, why would she want to live any longer?

“If she’s not getting anything from life. I mean obviously you can live with a certain amount of pain and some people are brilliantly stoical.

“But she has always said ‘I love my life the way I am…’. She is who she is and she has this super duper brain. I know I’m biased, but she is so bright and so brilliant that the last thing she would want is to become something else in her last moments.”

The programme played an audio clip that Dame Esther had sent into the show in which she explained her bid to change the law around assisted dying.

“I don’t know whether I’ll live long enough to see this debated in Parliament, but if you do agree with me, please, please make your views known to your MP,” she said.

“And for those who disagree, maybe on religious principles or maybe because they’re professionally absorbed in palliative care and believe that this goes against what they practise in medicine, can I just say, all we ask for is the choice.

“That’s all we’re asking for. We don’t want to impose our views on you, but we do want the choice ourselves.”

Wilcox, 44, discussed the laws around assisted dying in the UK and added: “This is the awful thing about outsourcing death to Switzerland.

“You have to go before you’re ready, because you have to be signed off by two doctors.

Service of Thanksgiving for Dame Vera Lynn
Dame Esther Rantzen arriving for a service of thanksgiving for forces’ sweetheart Dame Vera Lynn at Westminster Abbey (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)

“So you’re not quite at the stage that you would otherwise choose and you have to go alone, because anyone that goes with you comes back to prosecution, at the worst time in your life.

“I’m experiencing the worst thing ever, which is the loss of my mum. I’m very close to my mum and I’m very lucky to have her, but then I’d have to go through a court case and prove that I didn’t murder her?”

Also on the panel show, Wilcox talked about what it has been like to take on the presidential role at Childline and explained that she is suffering from “imposter syndrome”.

She said: “I never thought that they would ask me to do this role and I feel completely honoured and (I have) imposter syndrome. When are they going to realise Olivia Colman would be so much better? But I love the charity.”

She added: “I don’t feel at all that I could do anything in relation to how brilliantly she (Dame Esther) has been but I just want to do my best.”

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

In 2015 a Bill to legalise assisted dying in the UK was defeated.

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.

Dame Esther has called for a free vote on the issue, as her family could be prosecuted if they were to travel with her to a Dignitas clinic.

The veteran broadcaster is best known for presenting That’s Life! – a programme featuring a mix of investigations, topical issues and entertainment.

She set up children’s charity Childline in 1986, which has since become part of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC).