Dame Esther Rantzen says she is not well enough to attend assisted dying debate

Campaigner and veteran broadcaster Dame Esther Rantzen has pulled out of attending a Westminster debate on assisted dying because she is too ill.

Dame Esther, 83, who has said she is considering travelling to Switzerland for an assisted death, after being diagnosed with stage four lung cancer, said that MPs taking part in the debate on April 29 will be looking into a topic that is “crucial to most constituents up and down the country”.

She said: “While, sadly, my health issues (I have stage four lung cancer) prevent me from attending it myself, I will be watching the debate closely as it affects my own decision to go to Dignitas in Zurich if necessary, to protect my family from witnessing a painful death.”

MPs are to debate assisted dying for the first time in almost two years on Monday, after a petition backed by Dame Esther, Dignity in Dying and the Daily Express secured more than 200,000 signatures.

Dame Esther said: “I know palliative care can be wonderful in this country, but it cannot guarantee the dignified, pain-free death we terminally ill patients all hope for.

“The current law means my family could be prosecuted for supporting me if I go to Switzerland. This is not right, it is not ethical and, as it is my life I, like the majority of the public, believe it should be my choice.”

It comes after legislation to introduce assisted dying for terminally ill people in Scotland was published last month at Holyrood, as the MSP behind it said there is “compelling evidence” to support the move.

Liam McArthur said he was “confident” the Scottish Parliament would back his legislation in a vote, adding “robust safeguards” are included in the Bill.

Opponents of the legislation fear the lives of people who are ill or disabled would be “devalued”, and the Bishop of Paisley, John Keenan called it a “dangerous idea”.

With Holyrood likely to vote on the proposals later this year, it will be the third time MSPs have considered the issue. Two previous attempts to change the law were overwhelmingly defeated.

Assisted dying proposals in Jersey and the Isle of Man, to legalise the choice for residents, will be debated in the coming months.