It's time for another debate on assisted dying, says Gillian Keegan amid Dame Esther Rantzen campaign

19 February 2024, 08:51 | Updated: 19 February 2024, 09:15

Gillian Keegan said assisted dying needs to be debated again in Parliament
Gillian Keegan said assisted dying needs to be debated again in Parliament. Picture: Alamy/LBC

By Emma Soteriou

It is time for another debate on assisted dying, Education Secretary Gillian Keegan has said amid an ongoing campaign from Dame Esther Rantzen for a law change.

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Speaking to LBC's Nick Ferrari at Breakfast, Ms Keegan said she had met several people in her constituency in favour of Dame Esther Rantzen's campaign.

Ms Rantzen revealed at the end of last year that she had joined Dignitas in Switzerland as she battles stage four lung cancer.

She has since begun a campaign to change laws around assisted dying, which is currently banned in England.

Ms Keegan told Nick: "I think it is a topic that is often discussed. I quite often have home surgeries here and they will invariably be with someone who is elderly and almost all the people I go and see are in favour of this campaign for assisted dying.

"It is a conversation that is happening and obviously Dame Esther has her campaign, as others have in the past, and I'm sure that will mean that there will be a debate brought to Parliament.

"It has been debated in the past, but I’m sure that there will be further conversations."

Read more: Champagne and caviar: Esther Rantzen reveals plans for final moments as she pushes for assisted dying law change

Read more: Esther Rantzen's rallying cry on assisted dying: TV legend pens open letter to get public behind free vote for MPs

Gillian Keegan on Esther Rantzen's campaign for assisted dying

Ms Keegan also addressed palliative care, saying it is still "under-utilised".

"I was always very wary of [assisted dying] because of the slippery slope aspect but also because of the incentives and impacts that might bring," she said.

"There’s a saying, ‘where there’s a will, there’s a relative’ and there was always a lot of concerns about that but I also watched my own mother-in-law die in very painful circumstances and towards the end of her life she just wanted to die.

"It took two weeks and she was in dreadful pain so I can also see the other side of it.

"It is a very difficult debate and it is something that does need to be debated – lots of people have different views on it."

She added: "Palliative care in our society is still possibly under-utilised and that is one of the areas where there is a lot of agreement."

'I want to go out with champagne and caviar' says Dame Esther Rantzen

Meanwhile, shadow health secretary Wes Streeting told Nick: "I voted in favour of assisted dying the last time it came before the House of Commons.

"I, in principle, am open to the idea of people being able to exercise that right to die in very specific cases where they know that their life is coming to an end and where they will choose to spare themselves from the pain and torture and agony that can come with a terminal illness.

"But we've got to tread carefully in this area, we've got to make sure that the law isn't open to abuse, that people couldn't be coerced either deliberately or unintentionally.

"It's a good debate for us to have."

Bishop of Worcester Dr John Inge expresses his concerns about the societal impact of assisted dying

Read Dame Esther's full template for the public to urge their MPs to back a free vote on assisted dying here.

Ms Rantzen has issued a letter she hopes supporters will send to their MPs in a bid to get the promise of a free vote on the matter in party manifestos for the next general election.

The letter template calls for "a full debate in the House of Commons on the subject of assisted dying".

It adds: "Many people who once opposed legalising assisted dying have changed their minds since the last Parliamentary debate on this issue in 2015, including MPs and members of the medical professions.

"There are now so many countries which have reformed their own laws, including Australia, the Netherlands and most recently Ecuador, that there are excellent examples of the way it works well."

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