Minister says he is 'not averse' to new assisted dying debate

Minister says he is ‘not averse’ to new assisted dying debate after Dame Esther Rantzen revealed she is considering going to Dignitas if her stage four lung cancer worsens

Tory MP Mel Stride has said he is ‘not averse’ to another parliamentary vote on assisted dying, a day after Dame Esther Rantezen said she is considering to go to Dignitas.

While the Work and Pensions Secretary made clear that the Government would not bring forward fresh legislation on the issue, he signaled that he would be happy to debate it further.

Yesterday Dame Esther, 83, revealed she planned to ‘buzz off to Zurich’, where assisted dying is legal, if new medication to treat her stage four lung cancer stopped working.

The broadcaster explained that she had joined the Swiss-assisted dying clinic Dignitas , as she called for a free vote on assisted dying as it’s ‘important that the law catches up with what the country wants’.

Assisted suicide is banned in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, holding a maximum prison sentence of 14 years. A bill to make assisted dying legal failed to pass in 2015. 

Dame Esther Rantezen said she is considering to go to Dignitas this week, as she called for a free vote on making assisted dying legal

Tory MP Mel Stride has said he is ‘not averse’ to another parliamentary vote on assisted dying

Dignitas is an assisted-dying clinic in Zurich, Switzerland (pictured) 

READ HERE: Dame Esther Rantzen reveals she is considering going to Dignitas if her lung cancer worsens: Childline founder, 83, says she doesn’t want family to see her have a ‘bad death’ which would ‘obliterate the happy times’ – and is awaiting scan results

Mr Stride, who was one of 27 Conservative MPs to vote in favour of the legislation eight years ago, said it was ‘one of the most delicate, balanced and difficult’ he has made as an MP.

The minister, who was elected in 2010, told the Today Programme: ‘The government has not decided to bring forward legislation, I think I need to make that very clear. 

‘But if Parliament in some form or another decided that it wanted to have a fresh look at this, given it was some years ago that we last did so, that’s not something that I would be resistant to.’ 

Another Tory MP Alicia Kearns has called for another vote on legalising assisted dying.

Tweeting after Dame Esther revealed her plan, the MP for Rutland and Melton said: ‘Dame Esther is absolutely right, Parliament needs to have a vote on assisted dying, and it needs to be a free vote.’

She said there had been a ‘fundamental shift in the country’ and ‘in parliament’ since 2015.

Ms Kearns told the BBC: ‘Since I was elected we’ve had a number of debates on this and you can barely get a chance to speak.

Dame Esther (pictured at her home in Hampshire in 2020) is currently undergoing treatment for stage four lung cancer 

Yesterday her daughter, Rebecca Wilcox, spoke of how her family reacted to such an emotional decision

Dame Esther married Desmond Wilcox, a fellow journalist, in 1977. The couple had three children together, Miriam, Rebecca, and Josh, before Desmond died from heart disease in September 2000 aged 69

‘The amount of my colleagues who say I’ve reflected, I’ve changed my views… I really do think that the national conversation has changed.’ 

READ ALSO: Inside Dignitas where terminally ill patients pay £20,000 to end their lives as Esther Rantzen reveals she has joined the assisted dying clinic

Levelling Up minister Michael Gove also thought it would be ‘appropriate’ to ‘revist’ the issue in the Commons, despite not being personally persuaded. 

He said yesterday: ‘I am not yet persuaded of the case for assisted dying but I do think it’s appropriate for the Commons to revisit this. 

‘I think it was in the last Parliament that we had a debate on it and as I say, I am not yet persuaded but I would want to listen with humility to Dame Esther and others outline the case.’

Yet Victoria Atkins refused to give her personal view on whether there should be a vote on legalising assisted dying today, citing her ‘responsibility, as Health Secretary. 

Ms Atkins said she recognised how ‘incredibly emotional’ the issue is, but re-stated the Government’s line that it should be up to Parliament whether or not to have another debate on changing the law. 

The MP for Louth and Horncastle said today: ‘This rightly is a matter for Parliament and for members of Parliament. It’s a matter of conscience.

‘I feel very honoured to be the Secretary of State for Health, but I’m also very aware of the responsibility that brings and so it must be for Parliament, it must be for individual members of Parliament. 

‘And I shouldn’t be, I can’t be, drawn on my own views because I wouldn’t in any way want to pre-empt that discussion.’

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said the Government position has not changed so it remains a matter for Parliament to decide.

They reiterated it is ‘an issue of conscience for individual parliamentarians rather than Government policy – as it was in 2015 when the House considered it and rejected making any changes’. 

Shadow Health Secretary Wes Streeting agreed that Parilament ‘would probably be in a different place’ now than it was eight years ago.

He told LBC yesterday: ‘When I first became an MP we had a vote on assisted dying in Parliament. It was lost heavily. I think Parliament probably be in a different place now. This will be a free vote issue anyway, so Labour wouldn’t have a position.’

The MP for Ilford North said that while he would ‘totally understand’ people wanting to have ‘the right to die on your own terms’ he had some concerns.

The broadcaster, 83, has called for a free vote on assisted dying as it’s ‘important that the law catches up with what the country wants’

Dame Esther explained to her family that she didn’t ‘want their last memories of me to be painful because if you watch someone you love having a bad death, that memory obliterates all the happy times’

‘My hesitation is how we get the legal framework right?’ he added. ‘So that no one ever feels coerced, directly or indirectly, to exercise assisted dying without those checks and balances in place, making sure that we’ve got the right palliative care in place.’

During the last vote, 330 voted against changing the law with 118 calling for it be changed. 

Dame Esther made her announcement yesterday while speaking on the BBC’s Today Podcast with Nick Robinson and Amol Rajan.

READ HERE: More than 530 desperate Brits have ended their life at Dignitas since the Swiss clinic opened in the 1990s – as interactive globe reveals the nations where the assisted suicide service is most popular


The Childline founder said: ‘I have in my brain though, well, if the next scan says nothing’s working I might buzz off to Zurich but, you know, it puts my family and friends in a difficult position because they would want to go with me. And that means that the police might prosecute them.

So we’ve got to do something. At the moment, it’s not really working, is it?’

Dame Esther said that she had discussed the issue with her family and they had told her it was her ‘decision’ and ‘choice’.

She continued: ‘I explained to them that actually I don’t want their last memories of me to be painful because if you watch someone you love having a bad death, that memory obliterates all the happy times and I don’t want that to happen. 

‘I don’t want to be that sort of victim in their lives.’

After the announcement was made, however, her daughter Rebecca Wilcox spoke of how she would ‘want to ground the plane’ if her mother decided to fly to Dignitas.

She told ITV’s Good Morning Britain: ‘She never makes a decision in complete isolation, but she doesn’t care what anyone else says.

‘It’s horrific and she always promised us she would live forever. She’s not usually one to break her promises so we’re a little upset about that.

‘I would personally want to ground her plane if she was going to fly to Zurich but I know it’s her decision. I just don’t ever want her to go.’ 

She also spoke of the heartbreak of watching her father, Desmond, endure a slow and painful death as he battled heart disease, adding: ‘That’s what mum wants to avoid.’ 

If Dame Esther chooses to go to Dignitas she will be following around 650 Britons who have flown to Switzerland to end their lives at the secretive assisted suicide clinic.

While illegal in most parts of the UK, in Scotland, it is not a specific criminal offence but assisting the death of someone can leave a person open to murder or other charges.

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.

Legislation is being put forward in Scotland by Liberal Democrat MSP Liam McArthur.

The Assisted Dying for Terminally Ill Adults (Scotland) Bill is due to come before Holyrood next year.

A Bill to legalise assisted dying on the Isle of Man will be scrutinised by a committee next year before progressing to the next stage through the island’s Parliament.

That bill, as it stands, would apply only to terminally ill adults who have been ‘ordinarily resident’ on the island for at least a year and who are reasonably expected to die within six months.

It passed a second reading vote in October in what pro-change campaigners hailed as a ‘historic’ moment which they said puts the Isle of Man on the path to becoming the first part of the British Isles to see assisted dying legalised.

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