Former minister reveals she came within hours of ending husband’s life in plea for assisted dying

A former minister has revealed she nearly suffocated her husband with a pillow as he died an agonizing death from cancer.

Dame Joan Ruddock said she had gone so far as to pack “the pillow” and expected a “fight” as she called for assisted dying to be legalised.

The former CND chief also explained how she cursed herself for not using his liquid morphine while she could still swallow it.

He called for a vote on the matter, urging MPs not to stand in the way of something supported by 80 per cent of the population.

Childline founder Dame Esther Rantzen, who has stage four lung cancer, sparked a new debate about assisted dying last month when she revealed she had joined the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland.

Dame Joan said that towards the end of her husband's life she decided “my only option was a pillow over his head”.

Frank Doran, himself a former MP, was suffering from terminal colon cancer and saw him in excruciating pain as he neared the end of his life.

On his last night, he said: “I decided that if a doctor didn't come before 1am, I would end Frank's life.

“I cursed myself for not using the liquid morphine when Frank could still swallow. Now my only option was a pillow over his head.

“I was afraid he might struggle, but I prepared the pillow.

“Just after midnight a doctor arrived. He said there was no need as Frank was sleeping soundly.

“I told him when the medicine wore off the moaning would start again and I couldn't allow his suffering to continue. He reluctantly gave (a) injection. Frank died seven hours later.”

Dame Joan and Mr Doran both retired as MPs in 2015. Before he died aged 68 in October 2017, the couple lived a year with cancer.

She made her submission to the Commons health select committee, which is investigating the issue of assisted dying.

He said: “We always talked openly about death and promised each other help in the dying process if needed. It was a very happy marriage.

“I loved him deeply and was determined to support him and did not leave his side during the grueling hours of chemotherapy at our local hospital.”

Joan Ruddock is second pictured next to Harriet Harman, along with fellow Labor MPs Tessa Jowell, Barbara Roche and Clare Short in 1997.


She eventually became his carer and said he had “begged” her to make sure he died at home.

“A few days later I heard a desperate cry,” recalls Dame Joan. “Frank was in the bathroom where I saw the toilet, the floor and his lower body covered in feces.

“It was a pitiful sight and he was completely distraught. He just said, ‘I can't go on living like this'.”

He called for a free vote among MPs on the matter. Dame Joan said: “There should be a vote in the Commons and it should be a free vote. About 80 percent of people support assisted dying. Members of Parliament should take this into account. This is what the country wants and they must do what the country wants.”

He added: “I think there will be a vote in the Commons before Keir becomes prime minister. But if there isn't one before the general election, then I will certainly urge Keir Starmer to allow … a free vote on the matter.”

Dame Esther Rantzen urged MPs to think about their loved ones and the peaceful end they would want for them, as she accused politicians of avoiding a debate on assisted dying because it won't get them votes (PA)

(PA file)

In her testimony, she told MPs: “In Frank's case the treatment was not sufficient to remove the physical suffering and no amount of care could remove the agony of the mental and emotional suffering.

“I do not believe that we need to accept pain when a condition cannot be treated and death is inevitable. A person of sound mind should be able to ask to end their life under these circumstances.

“In our case we probably would have asked for parole a month before Frank actually died. This would have enabled us to part with love and peace knowing we were together.

“By not having this option we both suffered and used a huge amount of NHS resources that could have been better deployed elsewhere.”