Dame Jenni Murray backs assisted dying campaign after mother's 'painful' death and brands current laws 'inhumane'

22 January 2024, 15:26 | Updated: 15 February 2024, 09:42

Dame Jenni Murray has backed an assisted dying campaign after witnessing the 'inhumane' way her dying mother was forced to cling to life amid her 'indescribable pain and distress'
Dame Jenni Murray has backed an assisted dying campaign after witnessing the 'inhumane' way her dying mother was forced to cling to life amid her 'indescribable pain and distress'. Picture: Alamy

By Christian Oliver

Broadcasting legend Dame Jenni Murray has backed an assisted dying campaign after witnessing the 'inhumane' way her dying mother was forced to cling to life amid 'indescribable pain and distress'.

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The former Women's Hour host of 33 years said witnessing the difference in deaths between her mother and father convinced her to back legislation that would allow individuals to choose how and when they die.

Backing the campaign from the Express newspaper, Dame Jenni said it was "obviously the right thing to do”.

The 73-year-old was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2006 - the same day her mother died from Parkinson's disease.

Dame Jenni said witnessing the end of her mother Winifred's life in a care home, where she begged to die, reassured her that the outdated laws were "inhumane".

She told the paper her mother's experience has stayed with her ever since.

“I have heard from so many people and families who have suffered indescribable pain and distress," she told the paper.

Dame Jenni Murray at The Oldie Literary Lunch July 17, 2018 at Simpsons on the Strand
Dame Jenni Murray at The Oldie Literary Lunch July 17, 2018 at Simpsons on the Strand. Picture: Alamy

Read More: Royle Family star Sue Johnston says she and friends discussed assisted dying after watching 'very dear friend die'

Read More: Keir Starmer says current assisted dying laws 'don't really work' as he calls to change the rules

As her mother came towards the end of her life, Dame Jenni said she would visit her mother everyday where she would beg: "Jen, please help me die".

She was "in pain" and was "not the woman she wanted to be," Dame Jenni added.

"There was nothing I could do for her. I had to tell her over and again there was nothing I could do and it has haunted ever since. It is what made me a campaigner on this issue.”

The former Women's Hour presenter who helmed the programme between 1987 and 2020 has since put her support behind charity Dignity in Dying.

Some 80,000 people have also pledged their support to the campaign, the paper said, signing a petition that would force a Parliamentary debate on the issue. The petition requires 100,000 signatures to force a vote.

A vote took place in Parliament in 2015 but the Coroners and Justice Act still outlaws the practice as either murder or manslaughter.

Queen Elizabeth II meets radio presenter Jenni Murray at a reception for the Women's Royal Voluntary Service at St James's Palace, March 21, 2005
Queen Elizabeth II meets radio presenter Jenni Murray at a reception for the Women's Royal Voluntary Service at St James's Palace, March 21, 2005. Picture: Alamy

Read More: 'No plans to legalise assisted dying,' minister says, as Esther Rantzen's children say 'she shouldn't have to die alone'

Read More: Time for new debate on assisted dying, says Wes Streeting as Dame Esther Rantzen reveals Dignitas plan

Helping someone with assisted dying or going with them so it can be done abroad carries a sentence of up to 14 years in prison.

“The way things are is utterly inhumane. I consider it my life to live and it ought to be my life to end, in whatever way I choose," Dame Jenni concluded.

Labour leader Keir Starmer has also called for a change to the rules on assisted dying. He told Nick Ferrari earlier this month he would vote in favour of assisted dying "subject to it being the right change" in the law.

"I am an advocate to change the law," said Sir Keir, "Obviously that change has to be very carefully crafted."

The Labour leader looked at cases of assisted dying during his time as Head of the Crown Prosecution Service.

Dame Esther Rantzen revealed in December she joined the Swiss assisted-dying clinic Dignitas, prompting a renewed conversation about changing the rules around assisted dying.

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