Members voted by 36 to ten in favour of the principle of legalising the move, meaning that legislation will now be drafted and brought back to the Assembly in late 2022.
Paul Gazzard, whose husband Alain du Chemin died of glioblastoma, an aggressive form of brain cancer, in May, was one of those celebrating after the vote.
He said: ‘I am delighted that States Members have chosen today to stand with terminally ill people and their loved ones and I was touched that several speeches referred to Alain. He would have been honoured to have played a part in this historic moment.’
Mr Gazzard said the current law in Jersey had denied his husband the right to die on his own terms at home, forcing the couple to try to arrange an assisted death abroad in the middle of a pandemic before eventually deciding this would not be feasible.
He added: ‘To have had the option of assisted dying in Jersey, alongside end-of-life care, would have saved us both so much stress and anxiety in Alain’s final months.
‘It is heartening to know that other terminally-ill people may be given this choice in future and won’t have to suffer as Alain did, and that his tireless campaigning was not in vain.’
Journalist Gary Burgess, who has terminal cancer, said it was a ‘wonderful day’ and that he was pleased politicians had understood the issues at stake and voted by such a large majority.
Mr Burgess said he hoped the Assembly would take time to ensure the details of the new law were right, rather than moving too quickly and running the risk of unintended consequences.
Michael Talibard, of End of Life Choices Jersey, paid tribute to the campaigning of fellow Islander Roberta Tupper, who died in 2019 after living with cancer for four years.
A petition set up by Mrs Tupper’s daughter, Tanya, in 2018 attracted 1,861 signatures and paved the way for moves to bring the issue to the States Assembly. Opinion polls indicated that the majority of Islanders backed assisted-dying legislation, with appropriate safeguards, and there was also support from 78% of the members of the citizens’ jury, which was convened earlier this year.
Mr Talibard said: ‘This is a landmark decision and I am really proud, as a Jerseyman, to think we made the first step, and States Members should be proud of themselves for having the courage and wisdom to do this after a thorough and thoughtful debate.’
Silvan Luley, a senior director of Swiss organisation Dignitas, said he was pleased politicians had followed the will of the people and said he believed that, by making the move, Jersey was sending a sign to other jurisdictions, notably the UK, which were due to consider the issue.
Opposing campaign groups had staged events and lobbied States Members in the run-up to this week’s debate.
Former Chief Minister Terry Le Sueur, a supporter of newly formed campaign group Our Duty of Care Jersey, said: ‘I am naturally disappointed that Members approved the proposition, thinking that they could debate the details later. While they can certainly do so, the die has been cast and reliance on safeguards is, I fear, a vain hope.’
The Dean of Jersey, the Very Rev Mike Keirle, spoke as an unelected Member of the Assembly during the debate and warned that Members were ‘in danger of writing a blank ethical cheque’. He was not entitled to vote.
Mr Keirle said: ‘The democratic process has taken place and our job now is to hold politicians to account and ensure that the safeguards are meaningful and robust and that the most vulnerable members of our society feel safe.’
Dr Rachel Ruddy, a clinical psychiatrist, and a co-ordinator of Our Duty of Care Jersey, said: ‘This appalling decision by the States Assembly sends a terrible message to those suffering from suicidal ideation, especially due to depression brought upon by illness or impairment. If introduced, euthanasia and assisted suicide would enable the abuse of the most vulnerable people, who most deserve the protection of our legislators, and who have been failed by them today.’