Assisted-dying debate to begin in the States

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A States sitting, due to start today, includes a proposition tabled by the Council of Ministers that could see in-principle approval given to the move.

The proposition has been brought following a citizens’ jury report, which showed that 78% of jury members supported assisted dying for adults living with a terminal illness or unbearable suffering, subject to safeguards.

In the past few weeks, campaigners on both sides of the debate have been lobbying Members ahead of this week’s crucial vote.

Former Chief Minister Terry Le Sueur was among those who spoke against the move, arguing that safeguarding measures were ‘nice in theory’ but ‘difficult to put into practice’. However, Paul Gazzard, the widower of Alain Du Chemin who died of an aggressive form of brain cancer, said that while he was very grateful for the care provided to his husband by Jersey Hospice Care, the couple would have appreciated an alternative option.

The proposition, if approved, would force the Council of Ministers to prepare law-drafting instructions before the June 2022 general election, with a view to the regulations being debated by the new Assembly before the end of next year.

Deputy Kirsten Morel has lodged an amendment calling for the government to be required to lodge final proposals, including all processes and safeguards, for debate by the States Assembly by October 2022, with draft legislation then being prepared and debated by March 2023. This would add an extra stage of States debate to approve the regulations surrounding assisted dying. This, he said, would give the Assembly ‘the greatest possible level of control over, and understanding of, the proposed processes’.

A 23-person citizens’ jury was convened to examine the pros and cons of assisted dying and the potential issues that legalising it could bring. In its report, the jury found that there was support from 81% of jurors for assisted dying to be permitted for Jersey residents only. It also said that assisted dying should be possible using two different modes – self-administered (also known as euthanasia) and with the assistance of a physician.

An assisted-dying bill was introduced to the Scottish Parliament in June 2021 and is currently the subject of a consultation process. A similar private member’s bill was introduced to the UK House of Lords in May. In April, then Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced he had commissioned research on the impact of the ban on assisted dying in England and Wales on terminally-ill people who end their own lives at home and in Switzerland.

In 2018, States Members in Guernsey rejected proposals to legalise assisted dying. The proposition – lodged by the island’s then Chief Minister, Gavin St Pier – was defeated by 24 votes to 14.

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