'Most awful thing ever': Ex-cop tells of mother's Dignitas death as Esther Rantzen reveals assisted dying plan

19 December 2023, 11:40 | Updated: 15 February 2024, 09:37

Caller James

By Emma Soteriou

An ex-police officer has revealed the "moral impasse" he faced after his mother decided to join Dignitas.

Listen to this article

Loading audio...

Speaking on LBC's Nick Ferrari at Breakfast, caller James shared his mother's story after she made the decision to go to Dignitas.

He said she had been an NHS nurse for 40 years before becoming terminally ill with a rare disease called vasculitis.

"It acted a lot like a degenerative form of cancer and so she knew she was going to face an imminent demise and the symptoms were already there," he said. "She was really, really suffering.

"She knew what was ahead of her and she decided she didn’t want to face the indignity of losing control of her bowels, as you’ve described, as Dame Esther Rantzen has described, and she decided that she wanted the choice of compassion at the end of her life and so she went to Dignitas.

"I was working for the police at the time so I found myself at the most horrendous moral impasse where I wanted nothing but to be with my mum at the end of her life and hold her hand and tell her it was ok and that I loved her. But I couldn’t go with her.

"I had to wave goodbye to her at her front door while she walked on her own to protect me and my family from prosecution.

"I would’ve risked my career… it would've been one thing if I worked in the private sector – which I now do – I would've been prepared to take that risk but she decided with me before that I must not risk my career for my young family."

Read more: Esther Rantzen reveals she has joined Dignitas and will consider assisted dying if health does not improve

Read more: 'Getting medicine to become more of a challenge' as one pharmacy closes every day across England

Caller James spoke to Nick Ferrari.
Caller James spoke to Nick Ferrari. Picture: Supplied

He said during his time working in the police there had been multiple suicides he had attended whereby people had been terminally ill but did not have the funding to go to Switzerland.

He said his mother paid just over £12,000 to go to Dignitas.

Explaining the process, he said: "You have to join and you have to be mentally competent – you have to go through multiple safeguards.

"The idea that this is somehow dangerous and is going to put pressure on people… my mum had to be interviewed, my dad had to be interviewed by psychologists, she had to produce a report to show that she was mentally competent, she understood what she was facing and indeed she was terminally ill.

"The point being here is that there is a distinction between suicidal peple and people who are terminally ill. They are dying.

"It’s the disease that’s killing them, not the drugs that are compassionate towards the end of one’s life."

He said it had been the "most awful thing" his family had been through.

"We wanted to be with mum at the end of her life and celebrate the end of her life but we had to do it all in secrecy because of the fear of prosecution," James said.

"We’re outsourcing compassion hundreds of thousands of miles away to another country and it’s absolutely fine for my mum to do what she did.

"It’s absolutely fine for my mum to do what she did, she legally paid £12,000 to get to Dignitas and she travelled on her own. But she shouldn’t have had to."

Esther Rantzen has revealed she joined Dignitas
Esther Rantzen has revealed she joined Dignitas. Picture: Alamy

It comes after presenter Dame Esther Rantzen revealed she had joined Dignitas, the Swiss group that helps with assisted dying - which is banned in England - amid her battle with lung cancer.

In January, she was told the cancer was terminal and as it advanced to stage four and wasn't sure how long she had left.

The That's Life! presenter said: "I have joined Dignitas. I have in my brain thought, well, if the next scan says nothing's working, I might buzz off to Zurich – but it puts my family and friends in a difficult position because they would want to go with me.

“And that means that the police might prosecute them. So we've got to do something. At the moment, it’s not really working, is it?"

Dame Esther said she would want a free vote in Parliament on the subject had she been prime minister for a day.