Dame Esther Rantzen, 83, found out she had stage four terminal cancer in January this year. The television presenter, who hosted long-running BBC consumer show That’s Life! until 1994, explained she didn’t know how long she had to live.
Founded in 1998, Dignitas provides assisted suicides at home or at the society’s house near Zürich. The Swiss clinic offers its services to members with severe physical or mental illnesses, as well as the terminally ill.
Members have to prove that they are of sound judgement, and have to be able to bring about their deaths themselves. They must submit a formal request, including a letter explaining why they want to die, and have their wishes approved by doctors who aren’t part of the organisation.
Speaking on the Today Podcast, Rantzen said: “I have in my brain thought, ‘Well, if the next scan says nothing’s working I might buzz off to Zurich,’ but, you know, it puts my family and friends in a difficult position because they would want to go with me.
“And that means that the police might prosecute them. So we’ve got to do something. At the moment, it’s not really working, is it?”
Both euthanasia and assisted suicide are illegal in the UK, with euthanasia carrying a maximum penalty of life in jail. The only exception is “passive euthanasia”, which involves the withdrawal of treatment to extend someone’s life, for example, a life support machine being turned off.
Opening up about her decision, Esther said: “My family say it’s my decision and my choice. I explained to them that, actually, I don’t want their last memories of me to be painful because if you watch someone you love having a bad death, that memory obliterates all the happy times and I don’t want that to happen. I don’t want to be that sort of victim in their lives.”
She added that she was waiting to have a brain scan and would make up her mind about when she would go to Dignitas after receiving the results.
British patients who want to use Dignitas’ services need to rent the clinic’s apartments. While active euthanasia is also illegal in Switzerland, it is not a crime to prescribe lethal drugs, as long as the recipient takes an active role in taking them.
The country’s law only allows for providing the means to commit suicide if the reasons for doing so aren’t selfish. Dignitas reportedly charges between €4,000 (£3,600) and €7,000 (£6,400) for assisted suicide.
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