Cancer sufferer who died at Dignitas urges ministers to change 'cruel' assisted dying law in emotional last message

21 March 2024, 12:53

Paola Marra travelled to Dignitas to die
Paola Marra travelled to Dignitas to die. Picture: Alamy

By Kit Heren

A cancer suffered who went to Dignitas to die has urged ministers to change the UK's "cruel" assisted dying laws.

Listen to this article

Loading audio...

Paola Marra, who suffered from breast and bowel cancer, died at the Swiss clinic on Wednesday.

Before her death, music and charity worker Ms Marra worked with photographer Rankin to make a video telling of the "slow erosion of dignity" terminal illnesses can cause, and urging a rethink of the UK's ban on assisted dying.

Assisted dying has been a topic of debate in the UK in recent months, sparked in part by former TV presenter Esther Rantzen, who has said she has also become a Dignitas member since being diagnosed with cancer and has called for a vote on changing the law.

Advocates say that assisted dying gives people dying of terminal illnesses more control and comfort. Opponents argue that it could be a slippery slope, and people might be coerced into ending their lives prematurely.

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

Read more: ‘The law is a mess’: Dame Esther Rantzen issues fresh call for free vote on assisted dying

Woman who died at Dignitas leaves message for politicians urging law change

Ms Marra said in her film, released on Thursday: "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.

"It's about giving people the right to end their suffering on their own terms, with compassion and respect.

"So as you watch this, I am dead. But you watching this could help change the laws around assisted dying."

Keir Starmer tells Nick Ferrari he would advocate to change assisted dying law

In an open letter to political party leaders that accompanied the video, Canadian Ms Marra said that she had to travel alone to Dignitas because she didn't want her loved ones "to be questioned by the police or get into trouble".

Ms Marra, who had lived in London for more than 30 years, wrote: "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."

Rankin said he met Ms Marra on a project over Christmas and had been "floored" by her story.

'I want to go out with champagne and caviar' says Dame Esther Rantzen

He said: "I felt like I wanted to show somebody who wasn't suicidal.

"She wasn't depressed, she wasn't unhappy, she wasn't somebody that didn't love her life.

"She really loved her life and she really wanted her life to mean something. There is a wider purpose to (the film) The Last Request.

"In doing these photos and this film we wanted to highlight the need to change the legislation around end-of-life care."

There is a good chance the UK's assisted dying laws will change in the next few years. Labour leader Keir Starmer has said he is personally in favour of changing the law if his party forms the next government.

Many Conservative and Liberal Democrat MPs have also signalled they would back a change in the law.