Jersey today became the first place in the British Isles to approve assisted dying following a vote in the Channel Island’s parliament.
Following a two-day debate, members of the States Assembly voted by 36 to 10 in favour of the move, paving the way for the policy’s future legalisation.
The Council of Ministers will now be tasked with drafting an assisted dying laws to be debated by the end of next year. If those proposals are backed then assisted dying could be allowed by 2023.
It is expected that the law in Jersey will only allow local residents aged 18 or over to opt for assisted dying if they are diagnosed with a terminal illness that will result in unbearable suffering that cannot be alleviated and is reasonably expected to die within six months.
Draft legislation is also likely to state that people wishing to end their life must have a ‘clear, settled and informed wish to end their own life’ and have the ‘capacity to make the decision’.
Introducing the proposal on behalf of fellow ministers yesterday, Home Affairs Minister Gregory Guida called it a ‘societal issue being discussed and debated worldwide and Jersey should not ignore it’.
The proposition followed a citizens’ jury report, which showed that 78 per cent of jury members supported assisted dying for adults living with a terminal illness or unbearable suffering, subject to safeguards.
Following a two-day debate on the issue, members of Jersey’s parliament, the States Assembly, voted by 36 to 10 in favour of the move
Jersey today became the first place in the British Isles to approve assisted dying in principle – meaning it could soon be legal (stock image)
Jersey assisted dying principles
The principles agreed by Jersey’s parliament are:
Jersey, 14 miles off the north-west coast of France, is a Crown Dependency, but is not part of the UK. It has its own self-governing parliamentary democracy.
During the debate, Deputy Guida accepted an amendment by Deputy Kirsten Morel, which added an extra stage to the process, with Deputy Morel saying he wanted further detail on the process and safeguards to be considered in a follow-up debate.
States Members debating the matter spoke of their concerns yesterday, both at having and not having the right to choose to die.
Several Members gave emotionally charged speeches and offered quotes from prominent campaigners and testimony about the impact of end-of-life suffering.
Some, such as Health Minister Richard Renouf, argued it was a ‘fundamental change’ for the worse, while others, such as Senator Steve Pallett, said that it was a ‘common-sense way forward’ and that Islanders should not be denied the choice.
Senator Sam Mézec called it ‘literally a life-and-death matter’.
Public figures who spoke out ahead of the vote included former Chief Minister Terry Le Sueur, who was against the move due to safeguarding concerns, and Paul Gazzard, the widower of Alain du Chemin, who died of an aggressive form of brain cancer.
Addressing States Members yesterday, Deputy Guida described the topic as a ‘very controversial issue’, with many parishioners contacting their elected representatives ‘agitating for one side or the other’.
The minister encouraged the politicians present to ‘act according to their own conviction’.
Deputy Renouf said there was ‘a great sadness to me’, arguing that the proposal ‘accepts that vulnerable people will be put at risk by its introduction and accepts that safeguards have limitations and will not always work’.
He added that it meant ‘accepting bringing about early death of some people who need our protection. At present those people have our protection’.
The laws around assisted dying in the UK
What’s the law around assisted dying in England, Wales and Northern Ireland?
Currently, those judged to have assisted the suicide or attempted suicide of another person in England, Wales and Northern Ireland can be jailed for up to 14 years.
What’s the law in Scotland?
In Scots law, assisted dying might constitute murder, culpable homicide or no offence depending on the nature of the assistance.
Why is assisted dying controversial?
Last month, medical professionals wrote to Health Secretary Sajid Javid saying will not cooperate with any new law on assisted dying.
They spelt out their opposition in an open letter signed by 1,689 doctors, nurses, pharmacists and medical students, in which they insisted that ‘the shift from preserving life to taking life was enormous and should not be minimised’.
Campaigners say it will give people with terminal illnesses greater choice and control over how and when they die, with safeguards to protect them and their loved ones. But opponents say it will put pressure on people to end their lives.
The medics’ letter reads: ‘The prohibition of killing is the safeguard. The current law is the protection for the vulnerable.
‘Any change would threaten society’s ability to safeguard vulnerable patients from abuse.
‘It would undermine the trust the public places in physicians, and it would send a clear message to our frail, elderly and disabled patients about the value that society places on them.’
Faith leaders have also expressed ‘profound disquiet’. Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, Roman Catholic Cardinal Vincent Nichols and Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis have written to Mr Javid warning him the safeguards are inadequate.
Is assisted dying being legalised in the UK?
A backbench Bill to allow assisted dying has passed its first stage in the Lords.
The crossbencher Baroness Meacher, chairman of campaign group Dignity in Dying, who tabled the Bill, proposed that only terminally ill patients with full mental capacity and who were not expected to live more than six months, would be eligible to apply for an assisted death.
Downing Street has hinted that Tory MPs will be given a free vote when it comes to the Commons.
The minister raised concerns that individuals could consider themselves a ‘burden to their families’, and questioned whether the safeguards were sufficient enough.
‘The prohibition of killing is the safeguard,’ he said.
Deputy Renouf also said that assisted dying ‘starts calculating and determining a value to human life which leads to an inevitable change to attitude’, adding that society risked becoming ‘desensitised to the value of life’.
His view was echoed by the Dean of Jersey, the Very Rev Mike Keirle, who said the States was ‘in danger of writing a blank ethical cheque’.
Mr Keirle, who is allowed to speak in the States but does not have a vote, added that ‘whatever happens, it’s critical those safeguards are protected and ring-fenced’.
He questioned the need for legislation, saying that ‘the crucial question to my mind is should there be legislation and what impact will that have’ and said that if the Assembly made the wrong decision there would be ‘no putting the genie back in the bottle’.
He also called assisted dying the ‘single most important ethical issue that we will face in a generation’, raising concerns that the change could erode trust between doctors and their patients.
Senator Mézec said Members needed to consider the issue ‘extremely carefully and consider what the effect of the decision we will make today will have on people in the future, and how that sits on our consciences one way or another’.
The Senator said denying choice to people who were suffering was ‘fundamentally wrong’.
St John Constable Andy Jehan said that ‘the biggest concerns for Islanders are around safeguards, and in particular safeguards for the vulnerable’.
Reading from a recent JEP column written by terminally ill journalist Gary Burgess, Mr Jehan added: ‘For my part I’ve always found this one really simple: it’s my life, so I should be free to choose what I want to do, so long as it doesn’t hurt other people.’
Mr Jehan compared assisted dying to an emergency exit: ‘We all like to know where it is, but we hope to never have to use it.’
Deputy Steve Luce said he had read and responded to every letter sent to him, but had not been swayed in his support for assisted dying.
The first thing, he said, was ‘this is an in-principle debate and I have no doubt in my mind that we need to consider this issue further and in detail’, while the second involved the wording of the proposition, which concerned those ‘diagnosed with a terminal illness, which is expected to result in unbearable suffering that cannot be alleviated’.
Deputy Luce said: ‘I have seen the fear in the eyes of those who are suffering.’
Senator Steve Pallett said he had held a ‘strong view’ on the subject for some time, calling it a ‘common-sense way forward’.
He said: ‘If palliative care is your choice, then that needs to be respected, but the same level of respect needs to be levelled at those who make the decision that the quality of their life is so poor, due to extreme pain and suffering, that they choose to end it.’ ‘I think I would want a choice,’ he said.
‘Many who have written to me have said they should not be denied that choice.’
St Saviour Constable Sadie Le Sueur-Rennard made reference to one of her friend’s husbands, who had suffered at the end of his life, which she said was ‘haunting me all the way through this debate’.
She argued that Islanders should not have to travel elsewhere to end their lives, and should ‘have the right to do it here’.
Mrs Le Sueur-Rennard also used the example of her own farm, saying that if an animal was unwell, the vet came and put it to sleep ‘gently and kindly at home’.
‘Human beings should be given that dignity to be allowed to choose,’ she told the Chamber.
The proposition followed a citizens’ jury report, which showed that 78 per cent of jury members supported assisted dying for adults living with a terminal illness or unbearable suffering, subject to safeguards (stock image)
Most MPs now support changing the law to enable assisted dying in Britain, a new poll shows
For the first time, a majority of MPs back changing the law to enable assisted dying in Britain, according to a poll.
In only two years, the number supporting the right for the terminally ill with less than six months to live to be allowed help to end their life has soared from 35 per cent to 58 per cent.
More controversially, 45 per cent of the MPs surveyed by YouGov believe there should also be a broader change in the law to include those suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia.
In 2019, only 16 per cent of MPs said they would support a change for those suffering from incurable illnesses.
The reason for the dramatic shift in sentiment can be traced back to the last election, with 140 MPs elected for the first time.
There were 312 under the age of 50, with the average age of the Commons now 52.
Younger MPs overwhelmingly favour an overhaul of the right to die legislation, with 86 per cent backing assisted dying for people with six months to live, and 69 per cent wanting similar rights for those with Alzheimer’s.
Support is also strong among Tory MPs in Red Wall seats.
St Martin Constable Karen Shenton-Stone said she had been ‘inundated’ with emails, and labelled the sitting ‘by far the hardest debate I have ever had to take part in’.
Mrs Shenton-Stone, who had to pause for moments in her speech when talking about seeing a loved one suffer, said it was a ‘very, very difficult and emotional matter’ and was ‘fundamentally’ about human dignity.
She said she had been for and against, and sat on the fence, but would be supporting the amended proposition ‘after much soul searching’.
Deputy Rob Ward admitted that the proposition facing Members was the ‘most challenging debate and decision we face in the Assembly’.
He reminded his colleagues of the support the citizens’ jury had shown for assisted dying.
‘It will require careful regulations, and the right for medical practitioners to opt out,’ he cautioned, adding: ‘Those who oppose this on religious grounds have the right not to take this option – as does anybody.’
St Ouen Constable Richard Buchanan said: ‘The taking of a life by another is a giant step, and should not be taken lightly.’
He added that ‘mistakes cannot be rectified’, labelling the vote a ‘cliff-edge event with no return’, as he shared his fear that by approving assisted dying, Members would be ‘opening a door we may never be able to close’.
He also referenced a speech the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, made during an assisted-dying debate in the UK: ‘No amount of safeguards can perfect the human heart. No amount of regulation can make a relative kinder or a doctor infallible.
‘No amount of reassurance can make a vulnerable or disabled person feel equally safe and equally valued if the law is changed in this way.’
Deputy Steve Ahier argued that assisted dying was not at odds with religion, highlighting that a former Archbishop, Lord George Carey, had argued that it should be legalised.
Deputy Ahier said that ‘we all have to face the fact that we die and this is inevitable’ but that what they were ‘able to influence and control is the manner of our dying’.
Having to go to Switzerland for assisted dying ‘outsources people’s death overseas at huge financial, practical and emotional cost to the families involved’, he said.
Deputy Ahier also cited the words of Rabbi Jonathan Romain, a minister at Maidenhead Synagogue and founder of inter-faith leaders for Dignity in Dying, who said: ‘There is nothing sacred in suffering, nothing holy in agony.’
Deputy Louise Doublet said she would be voting for the proposition, adding that there would be an ‘opportunity to ensure the appropriate safeguards were put in place’ when legislation was brought back before the Assembly.
Responding to concerns from some Members that elderly relatives could feel that they were a burden, she said: ‘I hope that the level of concern for the elderly and vulnerable results in some actual cultural change going forwards.’