A minister has said he “would not be averse” to a new parliamentary debate on euthanasia after Dame Esther Rantzen called for a free vote on the issue.
The Childline founder and broadcaster said during an interview with the BBC’s The Today Podcast that she feels it is “important that the law catches up with what the country wants”.
Her family could currently be prosecuted if they were to travel with her to a Dignitas clinic.
A free vote means that MPs and members of the House of Lords are not pressured to vote a certain way by their party.
Assisted suicide is banned in England, Wales and Northern Ireland and carries a maximum prison sentence of 14 years. In Scotland it is not a specific criminal offence, but aiding and abetting the death of a person can leave a person open to murder or other charges.
Mel Stride, the work and pensions secretary, who was among 27 Conservative MPs who voted in favor of a bill to legalize assisted dying in 2015, said he thought some MPs might be wondering “if this is something we watching again”.
The bill from 2015 was rejected by 330 votes to 118.
Sir. Stride told the BBC’s Today programme: “The Government has not decided to bring forward legislation but if Parliament decided in some form it would have another look at this as it was a few years since we last did that. it’s not something I would be resistant to.”
He follows Housing Secretary Michael Gove who said on Tuesday he believed it was time for another parliamentary debate on the issue.
‘Incredibly emotional’ issue
Health Minister Victoria Atkins declined to give her personal view on whether there should be a vote on legalizing assisted dying, but said she acknowledged how “incredibly emotional” the issue is.
Asked if it was time for another vote, Atkins told reporters: “This is rightly a matter for Parliament and for Members of Parliament. It is a matter of conscience.
“I feel very honored to be Minister of State for Health, but I am also very aware of the responsibility it entails, and it must also be for the Folketing, it must be for the individual members of the Folketing. And I should not be, I cannot be, drawn on my own views, because I in no way wish to pre-empt that discussion.”
‘Prime to see someone you love suffer’
Dame Esther urged MPs to think about their loved ones and the peaceful end they wish they had.
“It’s agonizing to see someone you love suffer. No one wants that for their family. And we live in a time where it’s perfectly possible to offer people a gentle, peaceful death,” she told the PA news agency Wednesday.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman has said the government’s position has not changed, so it remains a matter for Parliament to decide and “a matter of conscience for individual parliamentarians rather than government policy – as it was in 2015 when Parliament considered it and declined to do possible changes”.
The Health and Social Care Committee is due to publish its report on assisted dying and assisted suicide in England and Wales, after launching an inquiry in December 2022 to examine different perspectives on the debate.