A CONSULTATION intended to tease out the detail of assisted-dying provision in Jersey has emphasised the division of public opinion that still remains on the subject.
Although the exercise, the second as part of the government’s consideration of assisted dying, did not seek views on whether it should be allowed, the latest report noted that a ‘significant number of responses (both written and in-person) focused on the question of whether assisted dying should be permitted, as opposed to how an assisted-dying service could work in Jersey.
Those supporting assisted dying referred to the extent of suffering and the consequent poor quality of life of some terminally ill patients; the importance of personal choice in the matter; the dignity and peace of mind that would come from assisted-dying provision; the question of access to assisted dying and the inequality created for those unable to travel abroad to end their lives; the circumstances in which palliative care failed to address the extent of suffering; and support expressed publicly for assisted dying.
Themes emerging in responses from those against included: the possibility of vulnerable groups such as the elderly feeling pressure to end their lives to avoid burdening others; the so-called slippery slope that could lead to more people becoming eligible to end their lives than was originally intended; confidence in the highest quality of palliative care; the sanctity of human life; the dangers of individuals being coerced; a change in the fundamental doctor-patient relationship; and the suggestion that many supporting assisted dying did not properly distinguish it from palliative sedation and other hospice care, or did not fully appreciate what it entailed.
The report quotes one person in favour of the legislation, who said: ‘Mum didn’t want that for herself, and she definitely didn’t want that for us as her family either. She wanted to die with dignity, just as she had lived most of her life with dignity, and she didn’t want to be a burden to us. But she wasn’t allowed to do or be those things.’
A respondent with the contrary view wrote: ‘Such a law would encourage people to view the life of chronically sick, incapacitated, chronically depressed and very elderly people as being of less value than that of healthy “normal” people. This would be a fundamentally degenerate and dangerous humanitarian attitude.’
The consultation invited the public to respond in general terms to the introduction of assisted dying and to a number of detailed questions, many of which also highlighted a lack of agreement. For example, asked whether the criteria should be widened to admit those with a neurodegenerative disease if they had a life expectancy of 12 months or less, 48% of those who responded believed they should but 45% disagreed.
On the issue of whether those eligible should be resident in Jersey for at least 12 months, almost 48% agreed but 31% disagreed, while the remainder said they did not know.
Almost 40% of respondents agreed that assisted dying should only be available for those aged 18 or over but 35% disagreed, and 25% did not know.
However, there was far greater agreement on the right of health professionals to refuse to undertake a supporting assessment that could help someone end their life. More than 78% of those who took part believed it was appropriate to allow such refusal, with less than 14% disagreeing.
There was a narrower majority in favour of the owners of premises like care homes being able to refuse to allow an assisted death on their premises, with 58% supporting that right and 36% against it.
More than 70% agreed that a new law should not require professionals working in health care to tell people about the assisted-dying service; while 55% agreed that an assisted-dying register should be public.
A significant majority – almost 59% – agreed that the nine steps set out in the consultation as the route to approving an assisted-dying death were necessary, while almost 30% believed that further steps or actions should be introduced.
The proposal that there should be a minimum 14-day period between a person terminally ill requesting an assisted death and its delivery again emphasised the extent of disagreement. More than 40% agreed but more than 46% were opposed.
There was greater agreement in cases where people were enduring ‘unbearable suffering’. More than 58% thought a period of 90 days was wrong, with only 18% agreeing.
Among the other issues to be explored in the detailed consideration of how the process would work, there was overwhelming support (72%) for the establishment of a Health and Community Services delivery and assurance board to monitor the quality of the assisted-dying service.
Almost 1,400 responses were received to the consultation, the majority from an online survey completed by 902 people, of whom 537 were in Jersey, 320 the UK and 45 from other jurisdictions. There were 307 written submissions on behalf of 53 stakeholder organisations or individual stakeholders, and from 254 members of the public; and 104 comments through government social media. About 80 participated in public presentations.