Health Minister defends plans for assisted dying bill

Tom Binet Picture: DAVID FERGUSON. (37801904)

THE Health Minister has dismissed concerns that legalising assisted dying will lead to a “slippery slope” with euthanasia becoming available to people with an ever-increasing list of medical conditions.

Deputy Tom Binet faced questions from a Scrutiny panel on Wednesday 3 April, seven weeks before States Members are due to debate a detailed proposition to allow Islanders to end their lives in certain circumstances.

If approved, Jersey could become the first place in the British Isles to allow the practice.

Deputy Binet stressed that government proposals underwent a “rigorous process”, and added that any changes made by States Members would undergo the same process.

Only adults who have lived on the Island for 12 months and who are terminally ill or have an incurable condition with unbearable suffering would be eligible for assisted dying, according to the government’s proposition.

Deputy Binet defended his decision to bring forward the draft legislation – which followed a vote in favour of the principle of assisted dying by the States Assembly in 2021 – having been a key figure in the lobby group End of Life Choices prior to being elected to public office.

He said: “My personal view is probably reasonably well-known because I was heavily involved in the campaign to bring this law forward, but I don’t think it’s my place to impose my views on anybody.

“The States voted to put a process in place, that process is run and I, as the Health Minister, am putting the result of that process forward for people to vote upon – does that not seem appropriate?”

The minister said he did not agree with concerns about a “slippery slope” scenario, where the numbers of those choosing assisted dying – and the criteria for making such a choice – gradually increase over time.

“I think in all the time that I’ve had an interest in assisted dying, I’ve had people mentioning the slippery slope – this means I respect that,” he said.

“All I would say is whatever rules and regulations may come about, to have any changes to those laws would require precisely the same degree of care and attention.

“The only slippage that can occur is if something goes back to the Assembly and [Members] actually ask for changes – those changes would have to go through the same rigorous process as we’ve already been through, so I personally find it something of a false argument.”

Deputies Louise Doublet and Catherine Curtis, members of the Assisted Dying Review Panel, questioned the Health Minister about the rights of disabled people, vulnerable adults and those aged under 18.

Deputy Binet said: “Somebody shouldn’t have a decision made for them because they become disabled.

“If I became disabled, I would find it patronising if somebody else came along and said, ‘you can’t have access to this because I’ve decided for you’ – that’s why I’ll be very, very clear: it’s about personal rights.”

Although he conceded that some might argue that certain under-18s were sufficiently mentally mature to make a decision about ending their lives, Deputy Binet said he felt it was “sensible” to include a minimum qualifying age of 18 in the legislation.

The minister added that further work was needed to strengthen the safeguards for vulnerable adults, in the same way as children’s rights had become enshrined in recent years.

The results of the Scrutiny review are expected to be published in the run-up to the debate, which is scheduled to take place during the Assembly sitting of 21 May.

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