Pro and anti assisted dying groups react to debate delay

Michael Talibard

OPPOSING sides in the debate about whether Jersey should move ahead with plans to introduce assisted dying have given a mixed response to news that a further States Assembly debate on the matter has been delayed.

Health Minister Karen Wilson announced on Monday that the debate on the proposed new law, supported in principle by States Members in November 2021, would now take place during the third quarter of 2024, rather than in February as originally planned.

Deputy Wilson’s decision was welcomed by opponents of assisted dying – Our Duty of Care Jersey and the Jersey Dying Well Group – but these organisations also questioned whether the minister was “only now fully understanding the scale and implications of the topic”.

More trenchant criticism came from End of Life Jersey, the body which has lobbied extensively for a change to the law in recent years.

Chairman Michael Talibard said: “I am very disheartened and disappointed by this, why the minister thinks she has the right to obstruct the will of the Assembly.

“Her first bad decision was to set up the so-called ethics review – this has always been about ethics, which were part of the debate, opinion polls and the establishment of a citizens jury.”

Mr Talibard said the minister was “already widely seen as obstructing a legitimate democratic process”.

He added: “I know from my exchanges within the Assisted Dying Coalition that this view is shared all around the British Isles, by My Death My Decision, the Humanists, and many other bodies – it seems to me that she lacks the courage and the competence needed to do her job.”

The opposing view was expressed on behalf of Our Duty of Care Jersey and the Jersey Dying Well Group by the latter group’s chairman, retired GP Dr John Stewart-Jones, consultant psychiatrist Dr Rachel Ruddy and GP Dr Andreas Melchior.

In a statement, the trio said: “The decision is an important and welcome development as it allows more time for politicians, especially the 21 newly elected States Members who played no part in the previous discussions, to properly understand the complexities of introducing assisted suicide and euthanasia into healthcare.

“Since the vote in principle in favour of assisted dying in November 2021, there have been significant amounts of new information of the growing harmful effects of introducing this into law, especially in Canada, which legalised medical assistance in dying by euthanasia and assisted suicide in 2016.

“Since then, there has been a continual erosion of the so-called safeguards that were initially set in place – this is especially relevant to Jersey, as the proposals closely mirror the Canadian “twin-track” approach for terminal and non-terminal illnesses.”

Dr Stewart-Jones, Dr Ruddy and Dr Melchior concluded: “We have always maintained our concern and stance on the topic of a change in law, as when taking such decisions the politicians involved must give due consideration to those most vulnerable in society, to the lowest common denominator, and we don’t believe that this was the case when the ‘in principle’ vote was taken by the last government.”

Announcing the delay, Deputy Wilson said it would avoid lodging proposals around the same time as the Government Plan or the Christmas period, as well as allowing sufficient time to scrutinise and understand the detailed proposals, in line with a request from the Health and Social Security Scrutiny panel.

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