Woman who ended life at Dignitas calls for assisted dying law changeon March 21, 2024 at 6:45 pm

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Paola Marra calls for new laws on assisted dying before travelling to Switzerland to end her life.

Paola MarraImage source, Rankin

A woman who felt she had no choice but to end her life at Dignitas left behind a video message calling on people to help change the law on assisted dying.

Paola Marra, who had terminal bowel cancer, died on Wednesday at the Swiss clinic – where people with illnesses leading to death, or unendurable pain or disability, can end their life.

The 53-year-old, from London, spoke out in a video published after her death.

Currently, UK law prevents people from asking for medical help to die.

Assisted dying has been the subject of intense debate recently, particularly after broadcaster Dame Esther Rantzen said in December that she had joined Dignitas as she lives with stage four cancer.

The concerns of opponents include fears that vulnerable people could be coerced into assisted dying.

In two videos released on Thursday, Ms Marra said she was travelling to Switzerland “to die by choice because there aren’t any options in this country”.

She said: “When you watch this, I will be dead. I’m choosing to seek assisted dying because I refuse to let a terminal illness dictate the terms of my existence.

“The pain and suffering can become unbearable. It’s a slow erosion of dignity, the loss of independence, the stripping away of everything that makes life worth living.

“Assisted dying is not about giving up. In fact, it’s about reclaiming control. It’s not about death. It’s about dignity.”

In an accompanying open letter, she urged leaders of political parties to listen to the voices of dying people like her and to debate assisted dying in Parliament as a matter of urgency.

“I could have had more time with my friends and people who love me [if assisted dying was legal],” she said.

“But instead, I will have to go to Dignitas on my own because I don’t want them to be questioned by the police or get into trouble.”

She added: “I resent that I don’t have a choice. I think it’s unfair and cruel. And for so many dying people who can’t afford to pay an average of £15,000 to travel to Dignitas, this cruel law will force them to endure a painful death, or drive them to take their own lives.”

Dignitas arranges accompanied suicide for people who have an illness leading “inevitably to death, unendurable pain or an unendurable disability”, and want to voluntarily end their life.

Canadian-born Ms Marra was speaking in a video filmed by prominent photographer Rankin and promoted by the Dignity in Dying campaign group, which believes assisted dying for terminally ill, mentally competent adults should be legal in the UK.

Esther Rantzen smiles at the camera on a red carpet for a women's event

Image source, PA Media

Earlier this month, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer pledged on a phone call to Dame Esther that he was “committed” to allowing a vote on legalising assisted dying if Labour won the next general election.

Downing Street has previously said it would be up to Parliament to decide whether or not to again debate legalising assisted dying.

Laws throughout the UK prevent people from asking for medical help to die.

An inquiry by the House of Commons Health and Social Care Committee found evidence assisted dying has led to better end-of-life care in some countries where it is allowed.

Both the British Medical Association and Royal College of Nursing have neutral positions on assisted dying, but others argue the current legal position should remain the same.

Dr Gordon Macdonald, of anti-assisted dying campaign group Care Not Killing, said he was worried criteria for assisted dying could in time be extended beyond terminally ill people to include those with disabilities, and conditions such as dementia and depression.

Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson, a leading critic of legalising assisted dying, said there are concerns vulnerable people could be coerced into pursuing assisted dying.

She previously said it was not always the “Hollywood death” that some might imagine and that complications could arise once lethal drugs enter the body.

Meanwhile, Baroness Ilora Findlay, a crossbench member of the Lords and former president of the Royal Society of Medicine, said evidence from countries where assisted dying laws had changed showed it was difficult to regulate properly.

At the time of Dame Esther’s announcement, she told the Today programme that the situation in Canada, where assisted dying became legal for those with terminal illnesses in 2016 and was expanded to those with serious and chronic physical conditions in 2021, was “out of control”.

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