Keir Starmer says there are ‘grounds for changing law’ on assisted dying
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has backed calls for a change in the law on assisted dying. The cause has been championed by Dame Esther Rantzen, who has called for politicians to grapple with the issue for the first time since 2015.
The Childline founder and broadcaster, 83, has stage four lung cancer and earlier this week said she has joined the assisted dying clinic Dignitas.
The Labour leader, who backed a change in the law the last time the issue was voted on in the Commons in 2015, acknowledged it would have to be addressed carefully.
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He said: “On the question of assisted dying, there are obviously strong views both ways on this, which I respect. And that’s why traditionally, this has always been dealt with with a private member’s bill and a free vote and that seems appropriate to me.
“I personally do think there are grounds for changing the law, we have to be careful, but it would have to be, I think, a free vote on an issue where there are such divided and strong views.”
The Daily Express has urged MPs to grant Dame Esther the chance to hear a debate on assisted dying.
She backs the Daily Express crusade Give Us Our Last Rights, which calls for a change in the legislation around assisted dying Health Secretary Victoria Atkins said the issue was always treated as a “matter of conscience”, with MPs given a free vote.
She declined to say whether she thought it was time for another vote in Parliament, telling BBC Radio 4’s Today: “As Health Secretary, I think actually, it’s right that I don’t express an opinion on this.”
But she added: “I think that if there was a will in Parliament that it will happen, if Members of Parliament, backbenchers, want it to happen.”
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On Wednesday Dame Esther told the PA news agency: “I would say to parliamentarians, ‘Think of the people you love in your own life, maybe who are older, maybe who are unwell, and think how you would wish them to spend their last days and weeks’.
“It is agonising to watch someone you love suffer. Nobody wants that for their family. And we live in a day and age when it’s perfectly possible to offer people a gentle, peaceful death.”
Assisted suicide is banned in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, with a maximum prison sentence of 14 years.
The Health and Social Care Committee is due to publish its report into assisted dying and assisted suicide in England and Wales, having launched an inquiry in December 2022 to examine different perspectives in the debate.
The ex-That’s Life presenter – who has signed up to Swiss assisted suicide group Dignitas – claimed politicians were avoiding a debate around assisted dying rights, fearing that the move would not earn them votes.
In an impassioned plea, Dame Esther said: “I would say to Parliamentarians, ‘Think of the people you love in your own life, maybe who are older, maybe who are unwell, and think how you would wish them to spend their last days and weeks’.
“It is agonising to watch someone you love suffer. Nobody wants that for their family. “And we live in a day and age when it’s perfectly possible to offer people a gentle, peaceful death. Make this personal, think this through and then put it on the national agenda. Debate it carefully. And come, we hope, to a humane decision.”
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