Jersey’s parliament to vote on whether to establish assisted dying service

Jersey’s politicians are to vote this week on whether to establish an assisted dying service on the island.

The proposals have been “very much influenced and informed by the views of islanders”, health and social services minister Tom Binet said.

In 2021, just over three-quarters (78%) of the members of a citizens’ jury on Jersey agreed that assisted dying should be permitted, and later that year the States Assembly became the first parliament in the British Isles to decide “in principle” to allow assisted dying.

Mr Binet said: “I think all the indications are that a majority of people actually want this.”

Asked about his hopes for the tone of the debate on what is a sensitive and divisive topic, he said: “I think we have a pretty good democracy here. It seems to work pretty well and everybody has got an equal opportunity to say their piece.”

A debate is expected to begin on Tuesday, although Mr Binet said voting may not start until Wednesday.

Five votes will take place, with the first on whether the island should establish an assisted dying service for adult residents who have made a voluntary and informed decision to die.

Members of the States Assembly will also be asked to vote on limiting eligibility to people with a terminal illness with a life expectancy of six months, or 12 months if they have a neurodegenerative disease. This is known as route one.

Elected representatives will also have a vote on whether the service should be open to someone with an incurable physical condition which might not be terminal but is causing them unbearable suffering, known as route two.

Another vote offers an opt-out for health professionals, giving them a right to refuse to participate in assisted dying.

A fifth vote asks members to agree on minimum timeframes between the first formal request for an assisted death and the act itself – 14 days for route one and 90 days under route two.

Speaking to the PA news agency ahead of the debate, Mr Binet said: “What you see in Jersey is a bottom up approach to this issue where citizens have not only driven the decision of the States Assembly to consider the issue of assisted dying, but have all had a really strong influence in shaping those proposals.

“The process has taken longer than in some other jurisdictions, but that’s because we’ve taken islanders along with us.”

He said it is also the case that some other jurisdictions are looking at the Jersey proposals in terms of “not if, but how” an assisted dying service can work.

If the proposals are voted through, it is expected the process for drafting a law could take around 18 months, with a debate then taking place by the end of 2025.

If a law is approved, it is expected a further 18-month implementation period will then begin, meaning the earliest for it to come into effect would be summer 2027.

Members of the House of Keys (MHKs) are currently debating its Assisted Dying Bill, which now states that a person seeking an assisted death should have been resident on the island for five years instead of one, and have a life expectancy of a year or less.

A move to make it separate from the island’s public health service, Manx Care, was voted down after a lengthy discussion last week.

Further debate on amendments to the wording of the Bill is set to take place on June 11.

Last month a debate in Westminster Hall, held after a petition backed by Dame Esther Rantzen called for a vote in Parliament on the issue, heard from a range of MPs on both sides of the debate.

A Health and Social Care Committee report in February warned that the Government must consider what to do if the law is changed in part of the UK or on the Isle of Man or Jersey, both of which are crown dependencies.

The Government has said it will discuss with the devolved administrations and crown dependencies “the practical implications for England and Wales” of legislation in nearby jurisdictions “and any constitutional issues that such legislation may present”.

A Bill was published in March at Holyrood that, if passed, would allow people living in Scotland with a terminal illness to be given help to end their life.

Dr Gordon Macdonald, of campaign group Care Not Killing, argued that the more elected representatives and members of the public hear about assisted suicide and euthanasia, the more opposed they are.

He said the more people hear about places which have introduced assisted dying, “the more they recognise the dangers”.

“They see how changing the law to allow the state to prescribe and administer death drugs to the terminally-ill, elderly, and disabled people will put pressure on them to end their lives prematurely.”

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