- Recommendations come as assisted dying bill is introduced in Scotland yesterday, with second reading on House of Lords private members bill due in autumn, meaning three jurisdictions in British Isles are set to debate issue this year
- Citizen’s Jury in Jersey strongly recommends change in law on assisted dying following months of evidence-gathering and debate
- New polling across British Crown Dependencies finds overwhelming support for law change to enable true choice at end of life, with around half saying they would consider travelling overseas for assisted death if terminally ill
A citizen’s jury in Jersey has today (Tuesday 22 June 2021) announced its recommendation of a change in the law on assisted dying, which if approved could pave the way for the first legislation on true end-of-life choice in the British Isles. Also published today is new polling commissioned by Dignity in Dying, which reveals overwhelming public support for reform on assisted dying in Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man. This comes after assisted dying bills were introduced in Scotland yesterday (21 June 2021) and in the House of Lords last month (26 May 2021).
Since March 2021 a citizen’s jury in Jersey has met to hear expert and personal testimony on assisted dying and to consider a change in the law on the island. The jury has now published its initial recommendations, calling islanders who are terminally ill and unbearably suffering to be able to request medical assistance to end their own life. Over the coming months the Government of Jersey will develop policy proposals and the jury will publish a final report before a debate in the States Assembly by the end of this year. If legislation is approved, Jersey could become the first jurisdiction in the British Isles to allow assisted dying in limited circumstances.
The jury’s recommendations echo the strong support among Jersey’s public, as well as in Guernsey and the Isle of Man, polling reveals today. Public support for a change in the law on assisted dying for terminally ill, mentally competent adults was highest in Jersey at 90%, with Guernsey at 84% and the Isle of Man at 87%. As British Crown Dependencies, each jurisdiction is able to legislate on assisted dying independently from the rest of the British Isles. Guernsey last debated assisted dying legislation in 2018 and the Isle of Man discussed a motion on the topic in 2020.
Assisted dying as a choice for terminally ill, mentally competent adults is legal in 10 American states plus the District of Columbia, three Australian states and across New Zealand. Spain has also recently passed an assisted dying law, Germany and Austria are currently considering legislation and a bill is progressing through the Dáil in Ireland.
Paul Gazzard, 48, husband of Jerseyman Alain du Chemin, who died of brain cancer on 1st May 2021, supports a change in the law on assisted dying in Jersey and across the British Isles. Alain provided personal testimony to the citizen’s jury and wrote an open letter to the States Assembly before his death. Alain had planned an assisted death in Switzerland before his health deteriorated and he died in Jersey in a local hospice.
“Alain’s message was simple: banning assisted dying does not work for terminally ill people or their loved ones. He would have lived better in his final months knowing that he had the choice he wanted here at home, without having to plan an assisted death overseas at huge expense and in the middle of a pandemic.
“Alain devoted his final months to fighting for change, knowing it would likely come too late for him. He would be delighted to learn that the citizen’s jury and the people of Jersey echo his calls for greater choice and control for terminally ill islanders. Before his death, Alain appealed to States Members to take up this opportunity to give the people of Jersey the right to die on their own terms. I sincerely hope they do.”
Sarah Wootton, Chief Executive of Dignity in Dying, which campaigns for a change in the law on assisted dying across the British Isles, added:
“The people of Jersey have declared loud and clear that they want choice and control over their deaths alongside high quality palliative care. Their Government now has a clear mandate: to listen to its citizens and grasp this opportunity to become a world-leader on end-of-life choice.
“Public support for change is also soaring in Guernsey and the Isle of Man, as it is in Scotland, where an assisted dying bill was introduced just yesterday. A House of Lords private members bill is also due to reach second reading in the autumn, meaning three jurisdictions in the British Isles are set to debate assisted dying this year. Furthermore, the Health Secretary has commissioned data on the impact of the blanket ban on England and Wales.
“Law-makers around the British Isles are concluding what the public has long known; that the current law cannot give our dying citizens the choice, control, compassion or protection they need. It is time we enacted our own safeguarded assisted dying laws, which are now the hallmark of liberal, progressive societies around the world.”
For more information or interview requests please contact Ellie Ball at firstname.lastname@example.org or 07725 433 025.
Notes to Editor:
All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from Island Global Research Ltd. Total sample size was 2,801 adults (873 in Jersey, 1056 in Guernsey and 872 in the Isle of Man). Fieldwork was undertaken between 10th – 18th May 2021. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all adults (aged 16+) living in the Crown Dependencies (i.e. Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man).
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.
The Government of Jersey, a British crown dependency, is currently conducting a citizen’s jury on assisted dying which will tomorrow (Tuesday 22 June 2021) report recommendations to the States Assembly for debate later this year.
The States of Guernsey last debated assisted dying in 2018, after a requête was introduced by Deputy Gavin St Pier. Legislative proposals were rejected despite high public support.
The Isle of Man last discussed assisted dying in January 2020 after a motion was introduced by Member of the House of Keys Dr Alex Allinson to promote discussion on the topic.
Assisted Dying Scotland Bill
Liam McArthur is lodging the Assisted Dying Scotland Members Bill proposal with the Non Government Bill Unit (NGBU) of the Scottish Parliament on Monday 21 June 2021.
A Consultation on the contents of the bill is planned to take place in Autumn.
The proposal seeks to introduce the right to an assisted death for terminally ill, mentally competent adults in Scotland. 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.
House of Lords Private Members Assisted Dying Bill
Baroness Meacher’s assisted dying bill was selected seventh in the House of Lords private members ballot in May 2021, meaning it is highly likely to be given time for a full Second Reading debate later this year. Its First Reading took place on Wednesday 26th May 2021, where Baroness Meacher introduced the Bill to the House of Lords. Dates for future Readings will be announced in due course.
This bill is based on one introduced by Lord Falconer in 2014, the full text of which can be found here: https://bills.parliament.uk/bills/2592
Rob Marris MP introduced a similar bill in 2015 which was defeated in the Commons.
In April 2021, the Health Secretary announced to the All Party Parliamentary Group on Choice at the End of Life that he had requested data from the Office for National Statistics on suicides by terminally ill people and assisted deaths in Switzerland of British nationals. This followed comments Mr Hancock made in the House of Commons in November and January this year highlighting the Government’s role in obtaining a fuller understanding of the functioning of current assisted dying laws, the need for a fair and evidence-based debate, and the importance of suicide prevention and patient safety measures.
The functioning of the current law on assisted dying was the subject of a Backbench Business Committee Debate in July 2019 and a Westminster Hall debate in January 2020, at which a majority of MPs speaking called for a review of present legislation.
In the US, assisted dying as an option for terminally ill, mentally competent adults in their final months of life is legal in 11 jurisdictions: Oregon (1997), Washington, Vermont, Montana, the District of Columbia, California, Colorado, Hawaii, New Jersey, Maine and New Mexico (April 2021).
In Australia, assisted dying is a legal choice for terminally ill citizens in Victoria (June 2019), Western Australia (December 2019) and Tasmania (March 2021).
New Zealand is set to legalise assisted dying as a choice for terminally ill, mentally competent citizens by November 2021, following a public referendum on the End of Life Choice Act in October 2020.
In Ireland, an assisted dying bill is currently undergoing pre-legislative scrutiny after a majority of TDs voted to progress the Dying with Dignity Bill 2020 in October.
Spain passed a law allowing assisted dying in March 2021 to be implemented later this year.
Austria’s Supreme Court ruled in December 2020 that its blanket ban on assisted dying is unconstitutional and the practice will be decriminalised in limited circumstances by 2022.
Germany began considering potential assisted dying legalisation in January 2021 after its Constitutional Court struck down the ban in 2020.
Canada introduced assisted dying legislation in 2016.
Assisted dying is permitted in Switzerland, and broader right-to-die laws are in place in Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg.
The largest ever poll of British doctors on assisted dying, conducted by the British Medical Association, results of which were released in October 2020, found overwhelming support for a change to the BMA’s current stance of opposition to an assisted dying law (61%), and that half of doctors personally support a change in the law (50%). The BMA’s current position – opposed to a change in the law – is due to de debated at their next Annual Representative Meeting in 2021.
In September 2020, eminent GPs Prof Aneez Esmail and Sir Sam Everington launched a legal challenge to the Royal College of GPs alongside the Good Law Project and Dignity in Dying over RCGP Council’s decision to maintain opposition to assisted dying despite its own survey showing a dramatic shift in GP opinion.
In March 2019, the Royal College of Physicians dropped its longstanding opposition to assisted dying in favour of neutrality following a member survey.