Keir Starmer says current assisted dying laws 'don't really work' as he calls to change the rules

5 January 2024, 10:24 | Updated: 15 February 2024, 09:43

Keir Starmer tells Nick Ferrari he would advocate to change assisted dying law

By Ana Truesdale

Sir Keir Starmer has called for a change to the rules on assisted dying, as he said it's not for prosecutors to try and make the law work.

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Helping someone with assisted dying or going with them so it can be done abroad carries a sentence of up to 14 years in prison.

Dame Esther Rantzen revealed in December she joined the Swiss assisted-dying clinic Dignitas, prompting a renewed conversation about changing the rules around assisted dying.

"I am an advocate to change the law," said Sir Keir Starmer, "Obviously that change has to be very carefully crafted."

He told Nick Ferrari he would vote in favour of assisted dying "subject to it being the right change" in the law.

The Labour leader looked at cases of assisted dying during his time as Head of the Crown Prosecution Service.

Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer took calls on LBC's Nick Ferrari at Breakfast show
Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer took calls on LBC's Nick Ferrari at Breakfast show. Picture: Alamy

"There were obvious cases of compassionate acts usually by loving family members in accordance with the wishes of somebody who wanted to end their own life", Sir Starmer said.

"We had to protect people from being exploited, of course", he added, but he saw that not all cases involved exploitation.

The Labour leader continued: "it would be better for parliament to actually change the law", because "it shouldn’t really be for the prosecutor to try and make the law work when it doesn’t really."

Sir Starmer said the law needs "a better framework from parliament."

The Labour leader recognised that Dame Esther Rantzen and her family "make a very powerful case" for assisted dying.

Dame Esther was told in 2023 that her lung cancer was terminal, and that it was unclear how long she had to live.

Journalist Dame Esther Rantzen announced she had been diagnosed with lung cancer in January 2023
Journalist Dame Esther Rantzen announced she had been diagnosed with lung cancer in January 2023. Picture: Alamy

The That's Life! presenter told the BBC: "I have joined Dignitas. I have in my brain thought, well, if the next scan says nothing's working, I might buzz off to Zurich – but 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 she would want a free vote in Parliament on the subject had she been prime minister for a day.

"Why should you not be given the choice about how you want to go and when you want to go?" she said.

Read more: Time for new debate on assisted dying, says Wes Streeting as Dame Esther Rantzen reveals Dignitas plan

Read more: 'Most awful thing ever': Ex-cop tells of mother's Dignitas death as Esther Rantzen reveals assisted dying plan

Last year, Work and Pensions Secretary Mel Stride told Nick Ferrari that the government was not looking at the issue of assisted dying.

"It’s not something that the government has any plans to bring back to my knowledge," he said.

"But I do think that Esther - and my word, what a special and dignified person she is - has really raised the salience of this issue.

"And I’ve no doubt it will have raised the issue of members of Parliament across the road in Westminster in perhaps looking at it again.

"But I know from a government standpoint I don’t think there are any plans to bring forward any legislation on that."

An assisted dying bill was overwhelmingly rejected by MPs in 2015, the first time the Commons had voted on the issue in 20 years.