Prue Leith urges ‘compassionate assisted death’ as UK Dignitas membership soars

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Dame Prue Leith has called for “compassionate and gentle assisted death” to be legalised in the UK as figures showed the number of British members of Dignitas has soared by more than 80% in the past decade.

The Great British Bake Off judge, who has been outspoken on the issue of choice for terminally ill people, described the current law as presenting only the “grim” options of “suffering, suicide or Switzerland”.

As of the end of December, there were 1,528 members of Dignitas from Great Britain, according to figures from the not-for-profit organisation, which assists dying patients with a “self-determined end of life”.

This has risen from 821 in 2012.

Dame Prue, 83, reiterated her support for a change in the law, telling the PA news agency “if it isn’t legal by the time I get there I will take the suicide route”.

The chef and TV presenter has previously called on the Government to give “proper time” to a consideration of a change in the law, and recalled how she watched her elder brother David endure the “most awful, awful, awful death” from cancer.

After the publication of the latest figures, Dame Prue told PA: “I’m sure Dignitas do a good job but who really wants to spend their last days travelling – alone if you don’t want your loved ones accused of aiding and abetting – to an impersonal institution in a foreign country?

“As the law stands, the choice for terminally ill Brits is grim: suffering, suicide or Switzerland. We need to legalise compassionate and gentle assisted death.

“Frankly, if it isn’t legal by the time I get there I will take the suicide route like hundreds do every year. But I’d rather have my family with me and do it safely and openly.”

Campaigning organisation Dignity in Dying said the latest numbers from Dignitas are “evidence that the ban on assisted dying is failing British families”.

Under the Suicide Act 1961, helping someone to take their own life is punishable with up to 14 years in prison.

In December, it was announced that the Health and Social Care Committee would hold an inquiry into the law on assisted dying, examining “different perspectives” in the often controversial and passionate debate, with a focus on the healthcare aspects.

Supporters of legalisation argue people should be able to help terminally ill loved ones who are experiencing great suffering to end their lives.

But a change in the law is opposed by many religious groups, who say it would undermine the value society places on human life.

Dignity in Dying said while Dignitas has used both the terms GB and UK, their figures cover all four nations of the UK.

Sarah Wootton, chief executive of the campaign group, said: “It’s immoral that we are outsourcing compassion to Switzerland for the few that can afford it.

“The increase in Dignitas’s latest figures is concrete evidence that Britons are desperate for choice and control over their deaths.

“Assisted dying is an option for millions across the world but still we do not have a British law for British people.

“A peaceful, dignified death on one’s own terms should not be behind a paywall.

“The parliaments of Jersey, the Isle of Man, Scotland, Ireland and France are recognising that doing nothing is simply not an option.

“Westminster is finally getting the message with the launch of the Health Select Committee’s assisted dying inquiry, but it must take note of these figures and the stories behind them.

“Each one is evidence that the ban on assisted dying is failing British families.”

In Scotland, Liberal Democrat MSP Liam McArthur plans to introduce a Member’s Bill which would legalise assisted dying for people who are terminally ill, though no date has been given yet for when this might be considered.

A public consultation on a Private Member’s Bill on assisted dying closed on the Isle of Man at the end of January.

A consultation on assisted dying proposals also took place in Jersey between October 2022 and January and publication of a consultation feedback report is expected in April.

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