The actress Susan Hampshire, who gave up acting to care for her dying husband and two older sisters, has urged MPs to rewrite “cruel” laws which ban assisted dying.
The star of The Forsyte Saga and Monarch of the Glen said that a “democratic, civilised” country would allow conscientious clinicians to provide compassionate care at the end of life.
In a harrowing statement to MPs, she said she had been forced to witness her sister starve herself to death because there was no legal way to end her life.
“I have witnessed, hour by hour and minute by minute, my loved ones’ wishes for a dignified end being denied,” she said. “That trauma will never leave me.”
She follows TV presenters Dame Esther Rantzen and Baroness Joan Bakewell in calling for a change in the law.
George Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, also backs legalisation of assisted dying, saying it was “profoundly Christian” to ensure no one suffers against their will.
Ms Hampshire made her comments in a submission to the Commons health select committee, which is considering the issue of assisted dying.
She said the assisted dying law was in need of “urgent reform”.
“I gave up work as an actress to care for my husband and to help my two older sisters,” she said. “In 2018, my sister, then 94, broke her hip and following complications, came home with palliative care support.
“The carers were unable to relieve her suffering. ‘If only there was a pill to end it all,’ she said often, as she begged for help to end her pain. She wanted ‘out’.
“Her only course of action was to starve herself to death and she died many weeks later. Watching her deteriorate and suffer was truly unbearable.”
Ms Hampshire recalled that two years later her other sister, also 94, “lay dying in her bed with multiple illnesses resulting from rheumatoid arthritis”.
“She could hardly breathe as a result of a severe chest infection and was in terrible, constant, agony,” she recalled. “I can still hear her tiny voice pleading with me to help her ‘skip this bit’. There was nothing the palliative care team could do.
“They were kind and wanted to help but their ‘hands were tied’. The morphine did nothing. It was horrific, not just for her but also for me, her children and grandchildren.
“No one wanted her to die, but she was dying. It was cruel to deny her the dignity she begged for and so deserved.”
Then in 2021, Ms Hampshire’s husband, the theatre impresario Sir Eddie Kulukundis, died after years of suffering with dementia and Type 2 diabetes.
She had cared for him at home for 12 years, and he was bedridden for the last 19 months, which was devastating for someone who loved people and loved life.
“He too had enough and once more, there was nothing anyone could do,” she said. “It was a privilege to care for my family.
“While I would go back to caring for my family in a heartbeat, just to see them alive again, it must be said that bearing witness to their voices and wishes being ignored – as they suffered the tortures of the damned – has caused me unbearable heartbreak.
“None of us want to see our loved ones die, but when they are begging to go, we must surely be able to respect these wishes.
“Conscientious clinicians must be supported to provide compassionate care at the end of life. A democratic, civilised country should surely be able to rethink the current law that is resulting in cruelty and unfairness.”
Ms Hampshire was a familiar face on British television, also appearing in The First Churchills, Vanity Fair and The Pallisers.