Keir Starmer says there is a good case to end the ban on assisted dying

Sir Keir Starmer has backed calls to legalize assisted dying – signaling a Labor government could back a new vote in parliament.

The Labor leader said there were “reasons to change the law” to help people who want to end their lives under clinical supervision.

Dame Esther Rantzen has called for a Commons vote on assisted dying after revealing she has signed up to the Dignitas clinic.

The Childline founder and broadcaster, 83, has stage four lung cancer and earlier this week said she had joined an assisted dying center in Switzerland.

The Labor leader – who championed a change to the law when an end to the ban was defeated in the Commons in 2015 – said on Thursday it deserved careful consideration.

“On the issue of assisted dying, there are obviously strong views on both sides of it, which I respect,” Sir Keir told reporters during a pre-Christmas visit to British troops in Estonia.

“And that's why traditionally, this has always been dealt with by a private member's bill and a free vote and that seems appropriate to me,” he said.

The Labor leader added: “I personally think there are reasons to change the law, we have to be careful – but it should, I think, be a free vote on an issue where there are such divided and strong views.”

Keir Starmer is in Estonia to visit British troops

(PA wire)

Cabinet minister Mel Strid this week suggested he would back another free vote in parliament to legalize assisted dying.

A bill to legalize assisted dying in the UK under strict controls was voted down by 330 votes to 118 in 2015. It is still banned in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, with a maximum sentence of 14 years in prison.

Mr Stride said he would “not be adverse” to a new Commons debate and vote. The Work and Pensions Secretary said he would like to take “a fresh look at it and come to a decision”.

However, he made it clear that Rishi Sunak's government was not introducing a new bill.

Fellow cabinet minister Michael Gove, asked about Dame Esther's case, told reporters: “I'm not yet convinced about the assisted dying case – but I think it's appropriate for the Commons to look at it again.”

Asked about the issue on Thursday, Health Minister Victoria Atkins said the issue was always treated as a “conscience matter”, with MPs having a free vote.

He initially refused to say whether he thought it was time for another, speaking to BBC Radio 4 Today: “As health minister, I think it's actually right not to express an opinion on this.” But he added: “I think if there was a will in parliament, it would happen.”

Dame Esther Rantzen has revealed she is considering an assisted death in Switzerland

(PA)

Dame Esther told BBC Radio 4 she believed more people would want to choose how they die if they were allowed to – saying she would hold a free vote if she were Prime Minister.

He also told the PA news agency: “I would say to MPs: ‘Think about the people you love in your life, maybe who are older, maybe who are unwell, and think about how you would like them to spend their last days and weeks.'

“It's painful to see someone you love suffer. No one wants that for their family. And we live in an age where it is entirely possible to offer people a gentle, peaceful death.”

Senior Tory Kit Malthouse, a former minister at the Home Office, said he was “working the tea rooms” in favor of a new vote.

The co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on end-of-life choice said “the feeling in parliament has changed significantly since 2015”.

In Scotland, this is not a specific criminal offence, but assisting someone's death can leave a person open to murder or other charges. The legislation is being brought forward by Lib Dem MSP Liam McArthur, with the Assisted Dying for Terminally Ill Adults (Scotland) Bill expected to go to Holyrood next year.

The Health and Social Care Commission is due to publish its report on assisted dying and assisted suicide in England and Wales, having launched an inquiry in December 2022 to look at different perspectives on the debate.