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Jersey is ‘falling behind’ on death laws

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DECISIONS about whether to introduce a right to assisted dying in Jersey are complex and cannot be rushed, the Health Minister has said after he was accused of ‘delaying tactics’ by a campaign group.

Deputy Richard Renouf

Deputy Richard Renouf confirmed that a citizens’ panel would be set up to consider the implication of any potential law changes.

Almost a year after pledging to commission research into the topic, Deputy Renouf said the panel’s findings and report were due to be lodged by the end of this year – meaning that a States debate on the subject is unlikely to take place until 2021.

News of the delay comes as Isle of Man politicians prepare to debate the matter in this week’s sitting of Tynwald, the island’s parliament, and has sparked accusations from campaigners that Jersey’s politicians are unduly delaying the issue.

Tom Binet of the campaign group End of Life Choices Jersey said: ‘We are delighted that the Isle of Man is progressing this important issue, but disappointed that Jersey is falling behind.

‘We don’t see why consultation is necessary as there has already been an independent survey showing that Islanders are massively in favour of allowing people to choose assisted dying. This is such a well-supported issue, but it is being kicked into the long grass.’

Deputy Renouf said he had been able to talk about the merits of citizens’ panels with the Irish health minister during a recent conference, and heard that panels had played a valuable role in contentious topics such as abortion and equal marriage.

‘I believe it’s the right way to proceed on a very important issue that has both ethical and moral dimensions,’ he said. ‘We know that there are groups with strong opinions for and against, and their views are valid, but we must be sure that we have the views of the whole Island.

‘I fully understand the pain that some people suffer from and that it may lead to people wishing to bring their lives to an end, but I also know how vulnerable some elderly people can feel with family pressures and a feeling that they are no use to anyone.

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‘I also think it’s important to emphasise the excellent end-of-life care that’s available in Jersey.’

Although assisted dying is legal in Canada, Belgium, the Netherlands and Switzerland, as well as certain states in Australia and USA, it is illegal in most countries, including the UK.

The minister said there were potential complications for medical professionals in Jersey who were registered with UK bodies such as the General Medical Council and the Royal College for Nursing, and this matter, plus the question of insurance, would be among the factors to be considered by the citizens’ panel.

‘We are going as quickly as we can, bearing in mind the other demands on government,’ he said. ‘This matter isn’t bottom of the list, but it has to be fitted in with everything else.’

Islanders will be invited to register their interest in being part of the citizens’ panel, with details likely to be published in the coming weeks.

Manx politician Alex Allinson is to seek political support for a change to Isle of Man law to allow ‘voluntary assisted dying’. Dr Allinson said that if he found support in Tynwald, he would seek leave in March to introduce a private members’ bill on the ‘significant social issue’, followed by a public consultation in the summer.

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