British woman with terminal breast cancer euthanised on New Zealand beach after urging for assisted dying law change

23 May 2024, 14:49 | Updated: 23 May 2024, 15:02

Tracy Hickman, 57, (pictured L with her husband Paul) died by euthanasia on a beach in New Zealand
Tracy Hickman, 57, (pictured L with her husband Paul) died by euthanasia on a beach in New Zealand. Picture: Facebook/Instagram

By Asher McShane

A British woman with terminal breast cancer has been euthanised on a New Zealand beach.

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Tracy Hickman, 37, had fought for euthanasia rights in the UK before her death on Wednesday.

Her friend and podcaster Dom Harvey shared a picture of her on Instagram, writing: “Tracy Hickman passed away peacefully today. 

“She was on a beach in the sunshine, surrounded by her loved ones. It was exactly what she wanted.

“It was an honour being able to share her story”.

Tracy’s partner Paul posted in the comments: “Thanks for your handling of this story,' he wrote. 

“It has been sensitive, and the family really appreciated how you brought it to people's attention in a way that allowed her to raise the awareness she wanted without sensationalising it nor seeking attention.

“Thank you so much for turning the simple legacy she sought for her young great nieces and others into something really special.”

Euthanasia has been legal in New Zealand since 2019.

Messages of support have been shared online
Messages of support have been shared online. Picture: Instagram

Days before her death she shared a message on social media saying that she was “at peace” with her decision to end her own life.

She posted: “The closer it  gets, the more peaceful I feel.

'But I'm so sorry for causing distress to my family and friends, although they understand. 

'The alternative is to live for another couple of months or so but have an uncertain and painful death.' 

In 2019 New Zealand, brought in the End of Life Choice Act which allows competent adults to choose an assisted death - under the strict conditions that they have a terminal illness, are aged 18 or over, and have six months to live.

Linda Clarke, Tracy's sister who lives in the UK, told the Guardian: “If Tracy was still in the UK, I'd have to watch her go through a horrific death”.

Tracy applied for an assisted death through New Zealand's process that includes an assessment from two doctors.

A medical team administered drugs while she relaxed on a beach, until she lost consciousness while surrounded by family.

Euthanasia is currently illegal in the UK and the wider British Isles, and any medic or person who performs euthanasia can face prosecution for manslaughter or murder.

Earlier this year Dame Esther Rantzen told LBC she will open a bottle of champagne live on air if a free vote on assisted dying goes ahead.

Dame Esther, who also has terminal cancer, has been pushing for a change in UK law on assisted dying.

A petition the 83-year-old former TV presenter launched to hold a parliamentary debate on assisted dying had been signed by over 205,000 people as of late April.

Childline founder Dame Esther told LBC's Nick Ferrari at Breakfast that she was grateful to everyone who had signed the petition.

Read more: Champagne and caviar: Esther Rantzen reveals plans for final moments as she pushes for assisted dying law change

Read more: Keir Starmer ‘personally supports’ changing assisted dying law ‘within five years’ if Labour win next election

Dame Esther Rantzen joins Nick Ferrari

"I want to say to them that I hope it hasn't been a painful process for them," she said.

"Because I know for a lot of people, it has meant reliving very, very difficult memories of someone you love, close to you, maybe a member of your family or a friend, dying in pain and asking for help and not receiving it.

"So I know that for a number of the people who've signed that will be a difficult memory and for others, they may have a terminal illness as I have.

"And just hope and pray that a change in the law may happen, which will give us all confidence of knowing that we will have a pain-free death if that's what we asked for."

Dame Esther Rantzen
Dame Esther Rantzen. Picture: Alamy

Dame Esther said that she hoped many MPs on both sides of the discussion attend the Westminster Hall debate.

"Some of [the opposition to assisted dying] is based on a religious faith of course," she said, "but quite a lot is based on the false feeling, the feeling that has no justification that if we bring in a capacity to decriminalise assisted death, it will damage palliative care."

In contrast to Dame Esther's views, some palliative [end of life] care experts have said that assisted dying could damage care for dying people.

A 2022 survey of palliative medicine doctors by the Association for Palliative Medicine of Great Britain and Ireland found that 86% "believe that assisted dying would have a negative or very negative impact on palliative care service".

Esther Rantzen's daughter Miriam Wilcox handing over the assisted dying petition signatures to Downing Street on Thursday
Esther Rantzen's daughter Miriam Wilcox handing over the assisted dying petition signatures to Downing Street on Thursday. Picture: Alamy

Labour leader Keir Starmer has said he is in favour of changing the law on assisted dying, and has promised a vote on the subject.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has declined to commit to holding a vote.

Ministers said in response to Dame Esther's petition: "It remains the Government’s view that any change to the law in this sensitive area is a matter for Parliament to decide and an issue of conscience for individual parliamentarians rather than one for government policy."

Dame Esther said: "I know that the 200,000 petition signatories were delivered by my daughter actually, to Number 10.

So [Mr Sunak] will also be aware and and... the government will be aware of the strength of feeling in the country."

Dame Esther said this campaign had been "difficult".

Carol Vorderman explains why she would choose assisted suicide if she had a terminal condition

"But I've been buoyed up by the personal messages I've received," she added.

"One yesterday, I received from a friend who lives near me, who has cancer, and it has spread. And his wife expressed to me how strongly they wish for the law to be changed for his sake.

"And, you know, these personal stories are so moving. And the people who write to me are so brave. It has been difficult, but I hope, I hope that whichever government takes this on, we do get the time for a debate and a vote and a change in the law, which means that people will no longer have to watch people they love, helpless, unable to assist them, when people are asking for an assisted death. And I hope things will change."

Asked by Nick if she would open a bottle of champagne live on air if and when the date for a free vote on assisted dying is agreed, Dame Esther said: "That is a deal. Something to look forward to. Thank you."

Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer, has said he is 'committed' to allowing a vote on legalising assisted dying in the next Parliament
Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer, has said he is 'committed' to allowing a vote on legalising assisted dying in the next Parliament. Picture: Alamy

Dame Esther revealed late last year that she had joined Dignitas, and told Nick in February how she would like to prepare for her final moments.

"What I would like, if we can get our laws straight and it doesn't put my family at risk, is I'd like to fly off to Zurich with my nearest and dearest, have a fantastic dinner the night before," she said.

"I love caviar and the fact it doesn’t always agree with me doesn't matter – I could even have champagne which I'm deeply allergic to.

"Then, the next day, go to this rather unappealing place where they do it, listen to a favourite piece of music and say goodbye to everybody.

"I'll tell them to 'cheer up, I’m meeting my late husband, my departed dog and my mother at the pearly gates' and hold out my hand for an injection or open my mouth for a rather disgusting medication."