Dignity in Dying has welcomed the commitment that the Government of Jersey will commission research into end-of-life choices, with the explicit inclusion of assisted dying as one of the issues to be considered.
Last year, the States of Guernsey drew international attention when the island debated assisted dying proposals put forward by Gavin St Pier, the island’s Chief Minister. In today’s statement, Jersey’s Chief Minister John Le Fondré has agreed to undertake research into choice at the end of life and will draw on research done elsewhere in the British Isles on this subject. The Government of Jersey must also look to other parts of the world where assisted dying is safely and legally available, where robust evidence shows that assisted dying law could be crafted to provide that choice to dying people on the island.
Tom Davies, Director of Campaigns and Communications at Dignity in Dying, said:
“It’s great news that the Government of Jersey will be conducting research into this most vital of policy areas. We know that dying people want choice at the end of life just as they have throughout their lives until that point. For too long that choice has been narrowly-drawn, focusing on where someone dies, but not how or when. This is unfair.
“We know that assisted dying laws can be crafted that protect vulnerable people and offer dying people, in their last days and weeks of life, the option of having an assisted death. If 100 million people in the USA, Canada and Australia can be given the right to die on their own terms, it surely can’t be beyond the wit of politicians, whether in Westminster, Holyrood, or the States of Jersey to draft a similar law.
“For too long, lawmakers in Britain have shied away from giving their dying citizens this choice. I hope this research will look beyond the British Isles to those countries that have passed safeguarded laws and see that safe, legal assisted dying is not only a possibility but a moral imperative.”
Notes to editors:
Dignity in Dying is a not-for-profit membership organisation that campaigns for greater choice, control and access to services at the end of life. It campaigns within the law to change the law, to allow assisted dying as an option for terminally ill, mentally competent adults with six months or less to live – something supported by 82% of the public (Polling conducted by Populus, March 2015). Dignity in Dying has members across the UK and the Crown Dependencies.
End of life choices:
- Dignity in Dying campaigns for a change in the law on assisted dying. Our sister charity, Compassion in Dying, helps people to plan and prepare for the end of life, including how to talk about it, plan for it, and record people’s wishes. It provides people with a free information line, publications and resources, and through work with diverse communities. Compassion in Dying specialises in supporting people to make Advance Decisions (‘Living Wills’) and to talk about their goals and priorities when living with a life-changing illness. It has a free MyDecisions website to help people to record their wishes for care in a legally binding way.
- In October, Jersey implemented its first mental capacity legislation, the Capacity and Self-Determination (Jersey) Law 2016, which clarifies that all islanders aged 16 or over are assumed to have capacity to make decisions about their health, and that any decisions made on behalf of someone who lacks capacity are in accordance with that person’s own values, beliefs and interests.
- The new law in Jersey makes provisions for Advance Decisions, a legally-binding document which allows someone to record their wish to refuse treatment in certain scenarios, should they lose capacity in the future due to illness or injury. Jersey’s new official template Advance Decision form has been developed from Compassion in Dying’s Advance Decision form and accompanying guidance notes.
Assisted dying in the British Isles:
- Assisted dying is prohibited in England and Wales under the Suicide Act (1961), and in Northern Ireland under the Criminal Justice Act (1966) which states that anyone who “encourages or assists a suicide” is liable to up to 14 years in prison. There is no specific crime of assisting a suicide in Scotland, but it is possible that helping a person to die could lead to prosecution for culpable homicide.
- Assisted Dying Bills have been considered in both the House of Commons and House of Lords in recent years. In 2014-15 the House of Lords debated Lord Falconer’s Assisted Dying Bill, where it received the support of Peers by a large majority against amendments designed to disrupt the Bill’s passage. In the Commons, MPs voted by 330 votes to 118 against a similar Bill, put forward by Rob Marris MP.
- The Assisted Suicide (Scotland) Bill was defeated in the Scottish Parliament in May 2015 by 82 votes to 36.
- Dignity in Dying provided support to Gavin St Pier and campaigners on Guernsey during the debates on assisted dying there. The debates drew attention from media across the world and throughout the UK. The Requête was ultimately defeated by 24 votes to 14. Deputies voted in support of a motion to investigate choice at the end of life on the island, similarly to Jersey.
- Assisted dying as an option for terminally ill, mentally competent adults in their final months of life is legal in eight US jurisdictions: Oregon (1997), Washington, Vermont, Montana, the District of Columbia, California, Colorado and Hawaii (January 2019).
- Victoria became the first Australian state to pass a Bill legalising assisted dying for terminally ill people in November 2017. The law will come into effect in June 2019. A similar Bill was defeated in New South Wales by just one vote in November 2017. The Government of Western Australia plan to introduce an Assisted Dying Bill in their state Parliament in the second half of 2019.
- Canada legalised medical aid in dying (MAID) nationwide in June 2016.