'The law is a mess': Dame Esther Rantzen's fresh call for Commons vote on assisted dying

A report by MPs says it's 'increasingly likely' the government will soon have to look again at changing the law on assisted dying, as ITV News Reporter Faye Barker explains

Dame Esther Rantzen has made a fresh call for a debate and vote on legalising assisted dying.

The veteran broadcast and Childline founder revealed last year that she had joined the Dignitas assisted dying clinic in Switzerland, after she was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer.

She reacted to a report by MPs which warned that the government must consider what to do if the law is changed in part of the UK or in the Isle of Man or Jersey.

“The current law is a mess. This report does not help very much for those of us who desperately want the current law to change for the sake of our own families, and the many others in our situation.”

The 83-year-old has been campaigning on the issue, including backing the launch of a petition demanding a parliamentary vote, which amassed tens of thousands of signatures over a few weeks.

She added: “If they had said ‘we urgently need a Parliamentary debate and a free vote’, you know, that could perhaps have fitted into my own timescale, but it doesn’t.”

Esther Rantzen receives her Damehood in 2015 Credit: PA

The Health and Social Care Committee said legalisation in at least one jurisdiction was looking “increasingly likely” and suggested the Government must be “actively involved” in discussions about how to approach differences in the law.

Their report into what it described as the “emotive” subject of assisted dying (AD) and assisted suicide (AS), but does not make a recommendation for a vote on the issue.

Assisted suicide is banned in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, with a maximum prison sentence of 14 years.

But with the issue being considered in other jurisdictions, a “divergence in legislation” was something the Government must prepare for, the report said.

“Following the recommendation by the Jersey Citizens’ Assembly, it looks increasingly likely that at least one jurisdiction among the UK and Crown Dependencies will allow AD/AS in the near future and ministers should be actively involved in discussions on how to approach the divergence in legislation.”

In Scotland, Liberal Democrat MSP Liam McArthur is expected to introduce an assisted dying Bill to Holyrood later in the year.

Downing Street has previously said it would be up to Parliament whether or not to again debate legalising assisted dying.

The Prime Minister Rishi Sunak repeated that sentiment earlier this month saying it would be a free vote in Parliament and that if a decision was taken for a change to the law, the Government would facilitate that.

But Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, who backed a change in the law in 2015, went further in December when he said that a private members’ bill and a free vote “seems appropriate”.

MPs last voted on assisted dying in 2015, where they overwhelmingly rejected a change in the law, by 330 votes to 118.

Want a quick and expert briefing on the biggest news stories? Listen to our latest podcasts to find out What You Need To Know…

Meanwhile, the report also concluded that while the UK had long been a world leader in palliative and end-of-life care, access to and provision of such care was “patchy”.

It said: “The Government must ensure universal coverage of palliative and end-of-life services, including hospice care at home.

“It is important that everyone is able to choose what type of support they need at the end of their life, and that their advanced care plan is honoured where possible.”

The report called for the Government to commit to an uplift of funding to guarantee support for hospices which needed financial help.

It also described a “pressing need” for better mental health support for terminally ill people and recommended the Government commission research on the subject and report back to Parliament.

The group Dignity In Dying, which campaigns for assisted dying, said the issue will be a key one for candidates in the general election, adding: “The next generation of MPs must listen to the public mood and finally break the deadlock on assisted dying.”

The campaign group Care Not Killing said they welcomed the report, but added it was “disappointing that they (MPs) have not come down firmly against changing the law”.

Have you heard our new podcast Talking Politics? Every week Tom, Robert and Anushka dig into the biggest issues dominating the political agenda…