Following a debate today in Isle of Man’s parliament, the Tynwald, members of the House of Keys (MHKs, the equivalent of MPs) voted overwhelmingly in favour (22-2) of allowing a private member’s bill on assisted dying to be introduced. The legislation is proposed by Dr Alex Allinson, MHK for Ramsey and a GP, who was also instrumental in bringing forward the island’s abortion legislation, which is the most progressive in the British Isles.
In January 2020 Dr Allinson tabled a motion on assisted dying which was rejected on the grounds that MHKs wished to first learn more about the subject and from other jurisdictions that had legalised assisted dying, however today MHKs voted overwhelmingly in favour of introducing draft assisted dying legislation for debate.
Dr Allinson’s private member’s bill would enable terminally ill, mentally competent adults the choice of an assisted death, subject to strict safeguards and alongside end-of-life care. It is modelled on proposals recently debated in the House of Lords. A public consultation on the island will now be held over the summer, with a draft bill available by the end of the year. This will then be reviewed by a committee of the Tynwald, with experts asked to give evidence to inform discussions. An opinion poll last year found that 87% of islanders support a change in the law on assisted dying.
Speaking in the debate today, Dr Allinson said:
“Honourable Members, this is not an issue that is going to go away, nor a problem that we can continue to seek to ignore. I believe now is the time for a real debate on legislation, and how we can provide real choice for terminally ill, mentally competent adults…
“As Parliamentarians and legislators, we now have the opportunity to represent the people who placed us here, to ask for their views and wishes for the future. This is the first step in any meaningful change and I ask for your support to step closer to a time when those dying on our island genuinely have choice, respect and can receive any support they require.”
This comes amid legislative progress in Jersey, another British Crown Dependency able to legislate on assisted dying independently from Westminster, and in Scotland. In Jersey, a citizen’s jury and its parliament, the States Assembly, last year approved the principle of assisted dying and draft legislation will be drafted later this year for debate in 2023. In Scotland, an assisted dying bill proposal brought by Liam McArthur MSP received a huge public response last year with a final proposal expected to be lodged in the autumn, followed by scrutiny by committee next Spring and a stage one vote in the Scottish Parliament expected next Summer.
In Westminster, a debate on assisted dying is expected in the House of Commons in the coming weeks, after an official government petition by Dignity in Dying garnered over 100,000 signatures. A private member’s bill introduced in the House of Lords by Baroness Meacher, Chair of Dignity in Dying, fell at the prorogation of Parliament on 28th April, despite the Bill passing its Second Reading unopposed in the House of Lords in October and commanding huge public and parliamentary support.
Last week New South Wales became the final Australian state to legalise assisted dying as a choice for terminally ill citizens, with only the territories now remaining. Similar laws are in place across New Zealand and 11 jurisdictions across the US, with some form of assisted dying legislation now in place in Spain, Switzerland, Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Canada and Colombia. In Germany, Austria and Italy courts have either struck down their respective assisted dying bans or ruled that it is unconstitutional. Portugal’s parliament has approved legislation though its president has vetoed it at present.
In the UK, recent data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) has indicated that terminally ill people are more than twice as likely to take their own lives than the general population. The data comes after several suicides and suicide pacts involving terminally ill Brits have come to light, with Dignity in Dying research estimating that up to 650 terminally ill people are taking their own lives every year in the UK in lieu of the safe, legal choice of assisted dying. This is in addition to the pre-pandemic average of 50 Brits a year who travel to Switzerland for an assisted death (costing at least £10,000) and 6,400 a year who suffer in pain as they die in the UK despite access to the best possible palliative care.
Sarah Wootton, Chief Executive of Dignity in Dying, which campaigns for a change in the law on assisted dying across the British Isles, said:
“This vote today represents a victory for compassion and common-sense, not just for the Isle of Man but the whole of the British Isles. Parliamentarians are quickly catching up with the public on assisted dying, recognising that it is becoming increasingly untenable to defend laws that fail to provide terminally ill people with the choice and protection they want and need. We commend Members of the House of Keys for grasping this nettle and taking steps towards a safer and more compassionate future for its dying citizens, alongside law-makers in Jersey and Scotland.
“In light of this progress, the growing evidence of the dangers of the status quo and the huge public appetite for change, it is only right that MPs in Westminster are also given the opportunity for full and fair debate. Assisted dying must be given the time and respect it deserves in Parliament. Continuing to ban this option not only lacks compassion; it represents a serious risk to patient safety which can no longer be ignored.”
For further information or interviews with parliamentarians, Dignity and Dying spokespeople or case studies please contact Ellie Ball, Deputy Director of Communications, Dignity in Dying, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 07725 433 025.