Our last human right

Reform is badly needed to give the terminally ill their last human right – freedom to choose how and where to die. Opinion piece Barking & Dagenham Post 11.1.24 (below). Also for publication Romford Recorder, Ilford Recorder, Docklands and East London Advertiser, Newham Recorder.

How we die isn’t the cheeriest topic to start the New Year. So I begin by celebrating the lives of two amazing women.

Dame Esther Rantzen is something of a national treasure. For years she was a familiar face on TV. Always cheery, thoughtful and humane, and very bright. She has gone on to enjoy renown as the founder of Childline, a transformative charity.

Diana Rigg was a remarkable TV, film and stage actress, from the Royal Shakespeare Company to Game of Thrones.   I first admired her talents as Emma Peel in the Avengers!  Her lead role as a sassy, self-assured woman of action was groundbreaking.  

Esther hit the headlines at the end of last year after announcing she was considering joining Dignitas. Based in Switzerland, their website says it is “a not-for-profit member’s society which advocates, educates and supports improving care and choice in life and at life’s end. Our advisory concept of combining palliative care, suicide attempt prevention, advance health care planning and assisted dying offers a basis for decision-making to shape life until the end. Since 1998, we are the spearhead for the worldwide implementation of ‘the last human right.’”  Esther, diagnosed with terminal cancer, dreads the prospect of unbearable pain and indignity. She explained “…if you watch someone you love having a bad death, that memory obliterates all the happy times”.

Diana Rigg did suffer a horribly protracted death from cancer in 2020. Heartbreaking details were shared by her daughter at the end of last year. Diana spoke powerfully in support of assisted dying in her last few months. Once a devout Christian, she said ‘I think I’ve rather gone off God.”

Humanists have no religious belief and Humanists UK has long campaigned on ‘assisted dying.’ Our arguments are based on reason and compassion. Our belief that this is our only life means it is particularly important everyone is empowered to live their best life in the here and now.  It is neither reasonable nor compassionate to force the terminally ill to endure pain and indignity when they are perfectly capable of deciding on the manner and place of their death.

Few can afford Switzerland. Our law badly needs to be brought in line with the many states around the world who have instituted humane reform with effective safeguards.

Paul Kaufman
Chairperson, East London Humanists

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