JERSEY remains on target to legalise assisted dying by 2025 – with experts in medical ethics to be asked to carry out a review of the Island’s proposals before a States debate next year.
The debate on the proposals has now been pushed back from November this year to next February to allow more time to develop what Health Minister Karen Wilson called ‘the single most complex piece of legislation that the Island will have to consider’.
Deputy Wilson stressed that the review would not reconsider the original States decision taken in November 2021 to allow assisted dying.
‘The Assembly have already reached their in-principle decision, so we are not going to revisit that. This review is so that we have a thread all the way through the preparation for the debate to the Assembly on the proposals which captures both the moral and ethical issues that people have raised through the consultation,’ she said.
The review was announced on Friday following publication of the second phase of the public consultation which Deputy Wilson acknowledged revealed ‘very divided’ opinion among almost 1,400 responses received.
Although the consultation was intended to explore what an assisted dying service should look like, ‘a significant number of people’ focused instead on whether assisted dying should be permitted at all.
Now the proposals for an assisted dying service in Jersey, which are to be refined further and signed off in June by the Council of Ministers, will go through an additional external review before being lodged for debate in December.
If the States approve the final version in February next year, law drafting is likely to begin the following month. Deputy Wilson said they remained on track to debate the new law in 2025.
Responding to the results of the latest public consultation, she acknowledged that assisted dying was ‘a sensitive subject’.
‘For this reason, the Council of Ministers has agreed that the proposals considered by the States Assembly later this year should be further informed by specialists with a background in medical ethics and law, who hold a range of views on assisted dying,’ she said.
The review’s terms of reference will allow it ‘to identify the ethical and moral considerations around assisted dying, including those raised in responses to the consultation’.
It constitutes a further stage in an already involved process. Following the appointment of a citizens’ jury in spring 2021 which recommended the introduction of assisted dying legislation, the States gave approval in-principle in November that year. But they agreed that the details should be brought back to the Assembly by October 2022 before law drafting instructions were prepared.
However, Deputy Wilson – who had by then inherited responsibility from her predecessor, former Deputy Richard Renouf – extended that deadline to allow further input from the public.
The latest consultation – conducted online, by written submission and through a series of face-to-face events held between November and January – generated almost 1,400 responses from within and outside the Island.
They included submissions from 27 organisations including the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Choice at the End of Life, the Christian Medical Fellowship, Dignitas, End of Life Choices Jersey and Lives Worth Living.
Characterising the range of responses received, Deputy Wilson said: ‘Assisted dying is a sensitive subject on which public and professional opinion is often very divided, as illustrated by the differing views expressed by those who responded to the consultation.’
The minister declined to give her personal views on the subject. ‘I have to remain neutral and I won’t be drawn on what my position is at any stage in the process,’ she said.