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

19 December 2023, 14:24 | Updated: 15 February 2024, 09:37

Wes Streeting says it is time parliament had debate on assisted death again

By Emma Soteriou

It is time for a new debate on assisted dying, shadow health secretary Wes Streeting has said after Dame Esther Rantzen revealed her Dignitas plans.

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Speaking during a call-in on LBC, Mr Streeting said assisted dying was one issue he felt "so conflicted" over.

"I totally understand - to the extent I can understand – why you would want that right to choose and right to die on your terms through legal assisted dying," he said.

"My only hesitation, because I think I’m sold on that principle, is how we get the legal framework right so that no one ever feels coerced – directly or indirectly – to exercise assisted dying without those checks and balances in place and making sure we’ve got the right palliative care in place.

"I think as a country we need a much broader conversation about how to have good deaths."

He went on to say: "I voted in favour of the assisted dying bill when it last came before parliament.

"I agonised about it and depending on how the passage of the bill had gone and how the debate on checks and balances rolled out I was undecided about whether I would vote in favour of the bill at its final reading.

"It’s a difficult one but I think it’s time to have the debate again."

Esther Rantzen has revealed she joined Dignitas
Esther Rantzen has revealed she joined Dignitas. Picture: Alamy

Read More: Esther Rantzen reveals she has joined Dignitas and will consider assisted dying if health does not improve

Read More: Dame Esther Rantzen steps down as Childline president after terminal lung cancer diagnosis

It comes after Dame Esther Rantzen, 83, revealed she had joined the assisted dying clinic amid her battle with lung cancer.

In January, she was told the cancer was terminal and as it advanced to stage four and wasn't sure how long she had left.

Speaking on Good Morning Britain her daughter Rebecca Wilcox said: “My mother never makes a decision in complete isolation but doesn't care what anyone else thinks.

“Its horrific and she always promised us she would live forever and she not one to break her promises - but this is her choice.

“I would want to ground her plane if she was going to Zurich but it's her choice. She is absolutely correct.

"My late father didn't have a good death. It was horrific. His death replaced our memories of him for a very long time.

"That is what mum wants to avoid."

Dame Esther Rantzen with daughter Rebecca Wilcox
Dame Esther Rantzen with daughter Rebecca Wilcox. Picture: Alamy

She added: “When we got the diagnosis in January we never thought we’d have Christmas with her again but here we are.

“She's coming here for Christmas. It's a joy and delight.

"I don't want her to die but I want her to have the choice."

Dame Esther explained this week: "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?"

She 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.

Esther married the late BBC documentary maker Desmond Wilcox in 1977.They were together for 30 years until his death from heart disease in 2000. It has long been a topic of debate whether or not assisted dying should become legal in the UK.

Dame Esther's comments are likely to inspire renewed discussion of the UK's ban on it.

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 is best known for presenting That's Life for 21 years from 1973 to 1994. She also founded Childline but stepped back after her diagnosis.

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