Dame Esther Rantzen: People cannot claim assisted dying harms palliative care

Dame Esther Rantzen has said people should no longer be able to claim allowing assisted dying is detrimental to a country’s palliative care system after a parliamentary report found no indications this is the case.

The journalist and broadcaster, 83, who has stage four lung cancer and has registered with Dignitas, welcomed the findings of the Health and Social Care Committee but said it is “very disappointing” the report does not recommend a debate and vote on assisted dying.

She told the PA news agency: “I hoped that they would produce evidence which is useful to the debate, and they have.

Pride of Britain Awards 2019 – London
Dame Esther Rantzen said assisted dying still needs to be debated, because public opinion has changed since the issue was last addressed in Parliament (Ian West/PA)

“One thing I really applaud is that they’ve done the comparisons with countries that have legalised assisted dying, and have found that palliative care, as a result, improves.

“And that is very important, because there have been a lot of claims by opponents of assisted dying that palliative care deteriorates. And it doesn’t.”

The report says: “”In the evidence we received we did not see any indications of palliative and end-of-life care deteriorating in quality or provision following the introduction of AD/AS (assisted dying/assisted suicide); indeed the introduction of AD/AS has been linked with an improvement in palliative care in several jurisdictions.”

MPs considered evidence from jurisdictions including in parts of the United States, Australia and New Zealand where assisted dying is permitted.

Dame Esther said the issue still needs to be debated, because public opinion has changed significantly since the issue was last addressed in Parliament.

She added: “Yes, the current law is a mess. No, this report does not help very much for those of us who desperately want the current law to change for the sake of our own families, and the many others in our situation.

“But there is one really important piece of evidence in this report, which is that the false claim that introducing assisted dying in a country damages the palliative care there, is absolutely untrue. And it’s time people were prevented from making that claim.”

She said the report is “not a step back,” but added: “Sadly, it’s not a step forward and that is very disappointing.”

She continued: “I would say to the authors of report – sadly I don’t think your report reflects the crucial changes in attitude in the public, and among professionals that have taken place since the last parliamentary debate in 2015.

“I’ve only had time to read the conclusions and recommendations, but I had hoped that among them there would be the recommendation for another debate.

“However, fortunately, the public has taken over the guidance. And we now have well over 120,000 signatures on the petition, which the party leaders have said they will take into consideration and what we need now is to have it included in every party’s manifesto.

“It is something people really do care deeply about. I know it’s an emotional subject. That may be the reason that the parliamentary committee has been reluctant to come down on one side or another. But the fact people feel so strongly about it is because their own life experience and their own hopes for themselves and their families.

“It’s time for our politicians to take it seriously and make sure it’s properly debated as soon as possible. And the current law is a mess – it tries to incorporate compassion, but in fact it has created cruelty in the lives of many families.”

Dr Gordon Macdonald, chief executive of Care Not Killing said: “At a time when we have seen how fragile our health care system is, how underfunding puts pressure on services, accessing specific treatments and when the UK’s amazing hospice movement faces a £100 million funding crisis, MPs could have decided to firmly close the door on assisted suicide and euthanasia, and say the current law which protects everyone, regardless of whether they are young or old, able bodied or disabled should remain. They failed.”