Dear States Members,
I write to you on the matter of assisted dying, knowing I only have limited time and ability to express my strongly held views.
I have terminal glioblastoma, an aggressive form of brain cancer. I am planning to travel to Dignitas in Switzerland for an assisted death; something I have been forced to do because of the current laws in Jersey. I passionately believe that future terminally ill Islanders should have the choice I have been denied.
Jersey is my home and I feel immensely proud that we are facing the topic of assisted dying head-on, seeking the views of our community and of experts from the UK and around the world through our Citizen’s Jury. I want you to hear mine, even though any change that results from it will come too late for me.
I was diagnosed in 2019, and since then my Plan A has been to live for as long as possible and as well as possible. I have endured gruelling operations, chemotherapy and radiotherapy in an effort to extend my life. I am just 50 years old, and weeks before my diagnosis I had returned to Jersey, where I was born and grew up, to be closer to my family. On Valentine’s Day this year I married Paul, my partner of ten years, at a small ceremony we were permitted to hold within lockdown restrictions. I have enjoyed a successful career in public health and was able to continue working until very recently. I feel very lucky to have the life I do.
My Plan B, when all options to prolong my life have been exhausted, is to die as well as possible, on my own terms. It became clear a few months ago that this point had been reached; I had tried all approved treatment options and applications to research trials had been unsuccessful.
The symptoms of late-stage brain cancer are not pleasant: pain, sickness, becoming unable to gain any enjoyment from my life, losing my dignity. I do not want to endure that kind of death, nor do I want my husband and family to be left with memories of me suffering. Palliative care is wonderful and I am grateful for it, but it can only do so much.
I want to decide when the time is right for me to go to sleep, comfortably, peacefully, in my own bed, with my loved ones around me. What makes anyone think they have the right to force me to die in a particular way; a way I don’t want? I do not want to end my life, but it is ending. I merely want a choice over how it happens.
That is not possible under Jersey’s current law. Instead I have been forced to spend my final months arranging an assisted death in Switzerland, where it is a legal option for terminally ill foreigners who meet the necessary criteria.
Jersey’s ban on assisted dying means that dying on my own terms comes at huge cost to me and the people I love. I will die earlier than I want to, to ensure I am well enough to get there and in case further lockdown restrictions are introduced. I will die far from my home and cannot be buried here on the island as I wish. I will die without all my loved ones around me, in order to protect them from possible prosecution for assisting me. I have had to spend in excess of £25,000, including chartering a private plane as Covid-19 has disrupted normal travel.
The law is also deeply inequitable. I am only able to achieve my Plan B because I have the resources. For most dying Islanders, the ability to go to sleep peacefully at a time of their choosing is simply beyond their grasp. That is something I cannot countenance, and neither should you.
I have read extensively about assisted dying laws overseas in societies much like ours, such as states in the US and Australia and across New Zealand. There, choice is safely offered to people like me who are dying and are in full possession of their mental faculties, alongside rigorous protection for anyone who does not want it or who does not qualify. I see no reason why we cannot do the same.
My message to States Members is simple: the ban on assisted dying does not work, so change it.
When you consider the outcome of the Citizen’s Jury later this year, you have a chance to do the right thing for our community, and to lead the way for the rest of the British Isles and the world on end-of-life choice. I hope you will not waste it.
Alain du Chemin
St. Helier, Jersey