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Sir Keir Starmer has promised Dame Esther Rantzen he will make time for MPs to debate changing the law on assisted dying if Labour wins power.

In a conversation with the terminally ill television presenter, the Labour leader gave a ‘commitment’ to ensure there is parliamentary time for a debate.

Sir Keir said he was ‘personally in favour of changing the law’ and claimed ‘delay just prolongs the agony’.

Dame Esther, 83, revealed at the end of last year that she has stage four lung cancer and has joined the Dignitas assisted dying clinic in Switzerland.

Since then, she has pleaded with politicians to grapple with the issue – saying ‘we live in a day and age when it’s perfectly possible to offer people a gentle, peaceful death’.

In a phone call filmed by ITV, Sir Keir told Dame Esther: ‘I’m personally in favour of changing the law.

In a conversation with Dame Esther Rantzen (pictured), the Labour leader gave a ‘commitment’ to ensure there is parliamentary time for a debate 

Sir Keir said he was ‘personally in favour of changing the law’ and claimed ‘delay just prolongs the agony’

Dame Esther, 83, revealed at the end of last year that she has stage four lung cancer and has joined the Dignitas assisted dying clinic in Switzerland (pictured)

Dame Esther, 83, revealed at the end of last year that she has stage four lung cancer and has joined the Dignitas assisted dying clinic in Switzerland (pictured)

‘I think we need to make time. We will make the commitment. Esther, I can give you that commitment right now.’

Pressed by ITV on whether a vote should take place in the next parliament, he replied: ‘Oh yes, definitely. I think Esther would agree with this.

Is Assisted Suicide illegal in Britain? 

Under the Suicide Act 1961, anyone helping or encouraging someone to take their own life in England or Wales can be prosecuted and jailed for up to 14 years if found guilty of an offence.

Section two of the act states that a person commits an offence if they carry out an act capable of encouraging or assisting the suicide or attempted suicide of another person, and the act was intended to encourage or assist suicide or an attempt at suicide.

In 2015 MPs including former prime minister David Cameron rejected a Bill to legalize assisted dying.

Opposition to changing the law has come from faith groups, campaigners who say disabled people may feel pressured to end their lives and campaigners who fear assisted dying would become a business.

‘For people who are going through this or are likely to go through it in the next few months or years, this matters hugely and delay just prolongs the agony.’

He said the debate should be ‘conducted with respect’ to ‘find the right balance in the end’.

‘I do think most people coalesce around the idea that there is a case [for assisted dying] where it is obviously compassionate, it is the settled intent of the individual, and there are safeguards with teeth to protect the vulnerable.’

The conversation between the Labour leader and Dame Esther will air tonight on ITV News.

Sir Keir has previously said he would be ‘open’ to making time for a Private Members’ Bill to be debated on the issue.

Sir Keir voted in favour of the last parliamentary bid to change the law in 2015, when he described the current ban as an ‘injustice’.

The vote was comfortably defeated by 330 votes to 118, but a poll of more than 10,000 people by Opinium Research for the Dignity in Dying campaign recently found that three quarters support making it lawful for terminally ill adults to access assisted dying.

While Labour is unlikely to bring forward its own legislation, Sir Keir’s signal that he would allow time for a fresh debate could encourage a backbencher to bring forward their own Bill.

A Private Members’ Bill is a public bill can be introduced by MPs or peers who are not government ministers. They are, however, unlikely to become law without Government support.

But Care Not Killing, which promotes palliative care and opposes euthanasia, questioned whether ‘killing of the terminally ill and disabled people’ was Labour’s ‘top priority’.

The conversation between the Labour leader and Dame Esther (pictured) will air tonight on ITV News

The conversation between the Labour leader and Dame Esther (pictured) will air tonight on ITV News

Rishi Sunak has previously indicated that he is willing to hold a vote over assisted dying, but it is not expected that he will find parliamentary time for one before the next election

Rishi Sunak has previously indicated that he is willing to hold a vote over assisted dying, but it is not expected that he will find parliamentary time for one before the next election

Dr Gordon Macdonald, the organisation’s chief executive, said: ‘Changing the law to legalise assisted suicide and euthanasia in the UK would represent a dramatic change in how doctors and nurses treat and care for people and put the lives of the vulnerable, terminally ill and disabled people at risk.’

He said ‘ordinary voters will rightly be surprised and alarmed that the Labour Leader has decided to make this intervention’.

‘They will rightly ask, is the killing of the terminally ill and disabled people really Labour’s top legislative priority if they win the next General Election?’

Last month, a much-anticipated report on assisted dying by the Health and Social Care Committee failed to deliver any clear-cut findings or proposals.

The inquiry stopped short of calling for a House of Commons debate and instead recommended that the Government should consider how to respond if moves are made to bring assisted dying into law in parts of the UK.

Rishi Sunak has previously indicated that he is willing to hold a vote over assisted dying, but it is not expected that he will find parliamentary time for one before the next election.

He said last month: ‘What the Government has always said, and I would commit to this of course, is if parliament decided that it wanted to change the law then of course the Government would facilitate doing that in away that was legally effective.’

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

In Scotland, it is not a specific criminal offence but assisting the death of someone can leave a person open to murder or other charges.

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This post first appeared on Daily mail

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