The Legislative Assembly of the Falkland Islands has today (Thursday 26 July 2018) voted to support a motion that terminally ill residents should have the right to die at a time and place of their choosing, subject to robust legislation and safeguards. A second motion stated that should assisted dying legislation be introduced in the UK, the Falkland Islands would consider adopting it. Both motions passed by four votes to three with one abstention.
The motions were brought by Member of the Legislative Assembly Dr Barry Elsby, inspired by an assisted dying debate in the Channel Island of Guernsey earlier this year. Despite high public support, Guernsey Deputies rejected assisted dying proposals by 24 votes to 16, following three days of debate in May 2018.
While the motions in Guernsey were defeated, the debate on the island demonstrated, through the positive engagement of the Royal College of Physicians and the General Medical Council, that the medical community can and will provide guidance for health care professionals in the event of law change, paving the way for future progress in the British Isles.
Sarah Wootton, Chief Executive of Dignity in Dying, which campaigns for a change in the law on assisted dying in the UK, said:
“The Falkland Islands have today been shown to be a compassionate, sensible and progressive society which cares deeply about its terminally ill citizens and rightly feels that they deserve better.
“Assembly members have clearly listened to the views of their citizens, who, according to a recent public meeting on the subject, overwhelmingly support the rights of terminally ill people to die on their own terms. This is something MPs in Westminster failed to do in 2015 as did Deputies in Guernsey earlier this year, though Guernsey’s debate has clearly been a driving force for change in other Crown Dependencies and Overseas Territories, including Jersey.
“Meanwhile, in the UK, many dying people will continue to endure unbearable suffering in their final months or be forced take matters into their own hands at home or in Switzerland. We urge our elected representatives to take note of today’s news and question why they continue to drag their heels on this crucial issue when momentum is building around the world. It is clear that change must and will come to the British Isles – the only question is ‘when’.”
Dignity in Dying is currently supporting Noel Conway, a 68-year-old man with terminal motor neurone disease, to bring a judicial review challenging the current law which prevents him from accessing an assisted death if he is suffering unbearably in his final months. Following a rejection by the Court of Appeal last month, Mr Conway and his legal team will now appeal to the Supreme Court.
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Notes to Editor
The Falkland Islands motion
“This House believes that terminally ill Falkland Islands resident adults in the end stages of their disease should have the right to die at a time and place of their choosing and that suitable robust legislation with appropriate safeguards would allow health care professionals to discuss this option with their patients and prescribe medication for the patient to take if that is their decision.
“This House asks that the Chair of this Assembly write to the Prime Minister in London informing her of this debate indicating that if suitable legislation were was enacted in the UK, the Falkland Islands would then consider adopting it.”
Both motions passed by four votes to three, with one abstention.
This does not commit the Legislative Assembly to developing assisted dying legislation for the Islands, but does confirm that should the UK do so, the Falklands are in support and would consider following suit.
About the Guernsey requête
Brought by Guernsey Chief Minister Gavin St Pier, the requête was originally introduced as a vote on whether to legalise assisted dying in principle, after which would follow an 18 month consultation period to determine the legal framework and implementation.
It was later amended to a proposal to establish a working group which would develop recommendations for future assisted dying legislation for terminally ill, mentally competent adults only. A working group will now be formed by the Policy & Resources Committee, with an independent chair. It will be tasked with consulting stakeholders from across the community and reporting back to the States on recommendations for a change in the law to permit assisted dying as a choice for terminally ill, mentally competent citizens in their final months of life, subject to safeguards. The requête also includes a commitment to first introduce effective disability and capacity laws and to consider the needs for the development of palliative care on the island.
About the Noel Conway case
Dignity in Dying is supporting Noel Conway, 68, from Shropshire, to bring a judicial review challenging the current ban on assisted dying in England and Wales. He was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a form of motor neurone disease, in November 2014. His condition is incurable and terminal.
Noel feels that he is prevented from exercising his right to choice and control over his death under the current law. He fears that without a change in the law he may be forced to suffer against his wishes. Noel is bringing this case against the Ministry of Justice to fight for his right to have the option of an assisted death when he is in his final six months of life.
Noel and his legal team will now appeal to the Supreme Court, following a rejection by the Court of Appeal on Wednesday 27th June 2018.
· Hawaii (in April 2018) and Colorado (in November 2016) have legalised assisted dying for terminally ill people, following California, Montana, Vermont, Washington state, Washington D.C. and Oregon (which first introduced the Death with Dignity Act in 1997).
· Victoria became the first Australian state to pass a Bill legalising assisted dying for terminally ill people in November 2017. A similar Bill was defeated in New South Wales by just one vote in November 2017.
· Canada legalised medical aid in dying (MAID) in June 2016.
The true cost of the current law in the UK
Currently, every 8 days someone travels to Switzerland from Britain for a legal assisted death – a process which costs £10,000 on average and often causes people to die earlier than they would have wanted in order to be well enough to make the journey. Recent polling found that over half (53%) of Brits would consider travelling abroad for an assisted death if terminally ill and two-thirds (66%) would consider breaking the law to help a loved one do so, yet only a quarter (25%) would be able to afford it. A further 300 terminally ill people end their own life in the UK every year.
About Dignity in Dying
Dignity in Dying campaigns for greater choice, control and access to services at the end of life. It advocates providing terminally ill adults with the option of an assisted death, within strict legal safeguards, and for universal access to high quality end-of-life care.