Liz Carr reveals ‘chilling’ reality of assisted dying clinic in Better Off Dead

Silent Witness star Liz Carr's new documentary Better Off Dead out Tuesday

Liz Carr poses in shimmering sequin dress at the TV BAFTAs
Liz Carr reveals ‘chilling’ reality of assisted dying clinic in Better Off Dead?. (Getty)

Liz Carr told Yahoo about the "chilling" reality of an assisted dying clinic that she visited in documentary Better Off Dead?.

Euthanasia is illegal in the UK and can be prosecuted as murder or manslaughter. It has been a huge talking point recently because of Esther Rantzen — who is terminally ill with lung cancer — announcing she had joined Dignitas, which is a Swiss non-profit organisation that provides physician-assisted dying. In recent weeks, MPs debated assisted dying after a petition backed by Dame Rantzen had attracted more than 200,000 signatures.

Keen to show what it is really like in an assisted dying clinic, Carr took the viewers behind the scenes of one in Canada alongside her wife Jo in her new documentary Better Off Dead?. The Silent Witness actor met with Dr Ellen Wiebe in her office where people can come to end their lives with MAID (Medical Assisted In Dying) which was legalised in Canada in 2016.

She told Yahoo: "It just felt really surreal. These places are really weird because I think sometimes there's that idea of death can be scary and horrible and people are suffering and we don't want that. So therefore, is this a very beautiful kind of velvet pillow death?

"And of course, life mostly isn't like that. It depends on your view and what you want from your own death. It was chilling in the room."

Liz Carr raises questions about assisted dying. (BBC)
Liz Carr raises questions about assisted dying. (BBC)

On both sides of the assisted dying debate, Carr acknowledged everyone wants a "good death". The comedian wanted to show people what the rooms really look like and give viewers the opportunity to find out more about how it happens with assisted dying.

She said: "You can talk about this subject morally and ethically. All of those, wouldn't it be a good idea? We don't want people to suffer. All absolutely right. But then it's like, let's be practical. I wanted to see where is the room? How does it happen?

"I get there's a whole load of people that don't die in that room. But there's a whole load of people that do and when you see it, it's just such a shonky sofa. She's almost trying to sell it like a salesperson in a sofa shop.

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"She's like ‘and it reclines’ and I'm like," then Carr took an intake of breath. "People have died in that room. It's the building that we see through when I'm looking out. It's just a medical office building, imagining going there and taking your last breath."

Better Off Dead? got even more shocking when Dr Wiebe — who has delivered more than 1,000 babies — said that MAID is the "very best work" she has ever done. The broadcaster said she was "grateful" for the doctor's honesty but what made filming it even "more surreal" was the normal conversation they had off-camera.

She said: "What's funny is that in between filming and having these intense conversations, it was just so normal. We might have strongly different views but, apart from that, we're two disabled women existing in the world, and we might want advice about the best restaurants in Vancouver and what wheelchair we've got. It made it even more surreal."

Esther Rantzen has joined Dignitas
Esther Rantzen has joined Dignitas. (Getty)

There have been celebrities who have spoken out in support of assisted dying including Childline founder Rantzen, The Great British Bake Off's Dame Prue Leith and Star Trek actor Sir Patrick Stewart. It's not only celebrities though. Recently, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer believes there are "grounds for changing the law" on assisted dying.

The former Silent Witness star has given her voice to the debate because the other side has "many incredible people" who have "really important stories to tell". She said: "There's nobody even remotely famous that ever speaks out on this subject from this point of view. The other side's got so many incredible people and then there's like me and the pope."

The activist, who has campaigned on the subject for many years, first asked the BBC to make the documentary in 2011 and more recent discussions didn't happen until six years later. Carr explained the documentary film finally got the green light in March last year. "There has been no overnight success," she said. "The most incredible things that happen to me usually come out of the blue and when I've been ready to deal with them."

She added: "Whatever happens now, my views are out there and it also represents lots of other disabled people - not all disabled people. I don't think our views have been out there in such a public way as when this doc comes out."

Liz Carr tells her story

Liz Carr pictured with her mum Pat. (BBC)
Liz Carr pictured with her mum Pat. (BBC)

Better Off welcomes audiences into Carr's own personal life. In the comfort of her family home, she has an emotional conversation with her mum Pat Carr about her own experiences of becoming disabled to help explain her views on assisted dying.

"I love my mum, we've got a great relationship," she said. "We're very close, even though we live in different parts of the country and I speak to her most days. She's still a big part of our lives." The TV star prepared her mum for the filming with one simple instruction: "Never to give away what my medical condition is." She said: "On the internet, there is a description that is wrong. Nobody has ever nailed it. Often journalists get really obsessed with it. So I prepared my mum."

Having given her mum no other tips, Pat collected everything from her diaries that had happened to the actor and shared them with her on camera. "It was really painful," she said. "Every time I was sad or felt ugly or teased or didn't want to go on. They were devastating things to hear - and my mum had put them all on that bit of paper that you see and there are pages of it. Just like a shopping list! I sat there and was quite devastated... My mum didn't consider how hard it was to hear it."

Liz Carr with some of her friends. (BBC)
Liz Carr with some of her friends. (BBC)

While the camera captured Carr's story, she was determined she didn't want everyone to "feel sorry" for her. Arguably one of the most poignant moments towards the end of the documentary saw Carr openly talking about assisted dying and the often untold positive reality of disability with her friends, who are also disabled. All of them are bursting with enthusiasm for life.

"I needed to let people into my world," Carr said. "Even though people might think you're very open or because you are on the telly, it doesn't mean you want your whole life out there. It feels so important to have the people that I love and care about in the documentary."

The production coordinator on the project praised the actor for letting us all in and Carr was pleased she did. She added: "It's a kind of 'Made in Chelsea' moment, a fly-on-the-wall world that we actually don't hear about and you can take that for granted in your world. That's my world and thankfully I'm really thrilled that I've brought that to the screen with the permission of all the people involved and that others are enjoying watching it."

Better Off Dead gets people talking. (BBC)
Better Off Dead? gets people talking. (BBC)

Better Off Dead? is a conversation starter and raises more questions around the debate of assisted dying. "It was probably the hardest thing I've ever had to make and I can't wait to get back into acting again," she said.

Naturally, Carr admitted she has been a "bit nervous" about the response she might get following the documentary's release. "You push it out into the world like you birth it," she said. "So far it's been a really open and a warm, response [from private screenings]... It makes up for all those days where it was tough or we didn't know how to do it or delayed."

She said: "I'm scared of it coming out and what people might think. There will be people who it will change, people who will start talking about it in ways they never did. There'll be people who will go, 'But you're denying me my rights and my choices', and I understand that too."

Watch Better Off Dead? on Tuesday 14 May at 9pm on BBC One & iPlayer.

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