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

Dame Esther Rantzen has hailed “historic” assisted dying legislation that has been introduced at Holyrood on Thursday.

The veteran broadcaster, 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”.

Liberal Democrat MSP Liam McArthur has published 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 is amongst those who have spoken in favour of Mr McArthur’s Assisted Dying For Terminally Ill Adults (Scotland) Bill.

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

Kevan Donoghue, who died from cancer, with his wife and son.
Pic: PA
Image: Kevan Donoghue, who died from cancer, with his wife and son. Pic: PA

He was told he had a rare form of bile duct cancer 18 months before his death, 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 said: “He accepted death, but why did he have to suffer like that for three weeks?

“I know if assisted dying were an option, he would have wanted it.

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

Kevan and Patricia Donoghue.
Pic: PA
Image: Kevan and Patricia Donoghue. Pic: PA
Kevan Donoghue.
Pic: PA
Image: Kevan Donoghue. Pic: PA

Mrs Donoghue said she “can’t change” what happened to her husband, but she wants it to change for others in the future.

She added: “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.”

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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, Mr McArthur 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.

Scottish Liberal Democrat MSP Liam McArthur (centre, left), alongside other MSPs, during a media event at the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh, after publishing his Assisted Dying for Terminally Ill Adults (Scotland) Bill. If passed, the bill will allow people living in Scotland with a terminal illness to be given help to end their life. Picture date: Thursday March 28, 2024.
Image: MSP Liam McArthur (centre, left), alongside other MSPs who support the bill. Pic: PA
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The bill is being introduced at Holyrood a week after proposals for an assisted dying law in Jersey were published.

Mr McArthur said: “This bill contains robust safeguards, similar to those which have been safely and successfully introduced in countries such as Australia, New Zealand and the United States, where they continue to enjoy strong public support.

“Our current laws on assisted dying are failing too many terminally ill Scots at the end of life.

“Too often, and despite the best efforts of palliative care, dying people are facing traumatic deaths that harm both them and those they leave behind.

“Polling has consistently shown overwhelming public support for assisted dying, and now I believe that politicians are catching up with where the public has been for some time.”

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