The requête, led by Chief Minister Gavin St Pier, proposed that a working group would develop recommendations for assisted dying legislation on Guernsey. The proposal was defeated by 24 votes to 14 after 3 days of debate.
Today’s vote follows a victory for campaigners on Wednesday when they avoided an attempt to dispose with the debate on assisted dying. Deputies voted on Wednesday morning by 21 votes to 17 to debate a revised motion that included both assisted dying and palliative care, thereby rejecting a wrecking amendment.
The States of Guernsey have also today agreed that the Committee for Health and Social Care should ‘consider the measures necessary to improve quality of life and health outcomes for all islanders towards the end of their lives’.
Sarah Wootton, Chief Executive of Dignity in Dying, which campaigns for a change in the law on assisted dying in the UK, said:
“Many in Guernsey and beyond will be disappointed with today’s result, particularly those who have seen the suffering caused by the current law. However, this debate has proved beyond doubt that there is immense public support for change and that more politicians are beginning to listen to the views of their constituents.
“The debate in Guernsey has also demonstrated, through the positive engagement of the Royal College of Physicians, the British Medical Association 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 recent years, politicians in the US, Canada and Australia have listened to the views of dying people, examined the limits of palliative care and concluded that it is perfectly possible, and necessary, to craft compassionate, evidence-based assisted dying legislation that provides choice to terminally ill people while protecting the rest of society. Today, many Deputies voted against the prospect of even beginning a consultation on this issue, despite claiming that they were not in principle opposed to assisted dying. Meanwhile, many dying people throughout the UK and Channel Islands are enduring unbearable suffering in their final months or are being forced to take matters into their own hands at home or in Switzerland.
“By agreeing to consider improvements in quality of life and health outcomes for dying people, we also hope that the Health and Social Care committee will examine the strong evidence over twenty years in Oregon that assisted dying is complementary to, and in fact has been shown to improve, the quality of palliative and end-of-life care.
“We commend the Deputies and campaigners who sought to make Guernsey a more compassionate, sensible and progressive place for its dying citizens. The supporters of assisted dying put the issue of end-of-life care on the agenda and the tone of the debate has been remarkably civil on the whole, with notable exceptions from several opponents of assisted dying. Guernsey has taken the lead on debating assisted dying and we anticipate that their excellent example will have far-reaching consequences far from its shores.
“Regardless of today’s result, it is clear that change must and will come to the British Isles – the only question is ‘when’.”
Notes to Editor
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. The proposal detailed that the working group would be formed by the Policy & Resources Committee, with an independent chair. It would 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 included a commitment to first introduce effective disability and capacity laws and to consider the needs for the development of palliative care on the island.
The final votes on the requête broke down the sections for individual votes:
- Sections 1 and 2 were defeated by 22 votes to 16. These sections would have required, amongst other things, the States of Guernsey to implement capacity legislation and protections for people with disabilities before allowing assisted dying.
- Section 3 would have established a working group to explore the legalisation of assisted dying. This section was defeated by24 votes to 14 and represents the main substance of the debate.
- Section 4 would have required a liaison between the States of Guernsey and the States of Alderney to explore the legalisation of assisted dying in both places. This was defeated by 26 votes to 11.
- Section 5 requires the Committee for Health and Social Care to ‘consider the outcomes necessary to improve quality of life and health outcomes for all islanders towards the end of their lives’. Significantly, this does not exclude the evidence from other countries where assisted dying is legal, unlike a previous version of the requête put forward by an opponent of assisted dying, which did specifically exclude assisted dying from the Committee’s remit.
Deputy Jonathan Le Tocq laid an amendment on the evening before the debate (Amendment 5) that would have removed from the requête all references to assisted dying and replace it with palliative care in its place. Deputy Gavin St Pier then put forward an amendment (Amendment 6) that would encompass both the previous provisions on assisted dying and Deputy Le Tocq’s proposals on palliative care. This new motion was adopted, despite opposition from Deputy Le Tocq, by 21 votes to 17.
Deputy Charles Parkinson proposed Amendment 7 on Thursday to remove the need for agreement in principle on assisted dying. As such, it would have allowed a working group to investigate assisted dying without any obligation to recommend its adoption. This amendment was defeated, without a debate, by 23 votes to 16.
Noel Conway judicial review on assisted dying
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.
His case was heard at the Court of Appeal 1-3 May 2018. A written judgment is expected in early summer.
- 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.
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.