Jersey's Assisted Dying Debate: The Conversation

  • Video report by ITV Channel reporter Sophie Dulson

The law on assisted dying in Jersey is being reviewed by a Citizen's Jury, and it is expected to start a conversation which could lead to a debate on the law in Jersey's States Assembly.

The panel is made up of 23 members who will hear evidence on both sides of the assisted dying debate before reaching a conclusion by the end of May 2021.

  • What are Citizens' Juries?

Citizens' Juries are used all over the world to look at complex issues and make recommendations. It is a method of deliberation, where a small group of people (between 12 and 24), representative of the demographics of a given area, come together to carefully consider an issue.

A Citizens' Jury can be used on different policy issues and it is particularly effective on value laden and controversial questions, where knowledge is contested and there might be important ethical and social repercussions. Normally citizens deliberate over a clearly framed question.

The final Jury report will be presented to the States Assembly in the autumn. Credit: ITV Channel

The Assisted Dying Citizens' Jury is currently meeting via online sessions. The jury has been selected at random and will demographically represent the island's population.

They will meet over 10 sessions and be asked to answer the question, “Should assisted dying be permitted in Jersey and, if so, under what circumstances?”. To support the jury to answer this question, they will hear from expert witnesses, both people with professional expertise on the subject and those with lived experience. 

In May 2018 Guernsey's government rejected proposals that may have seen assisted dying legalised. Credit: ITV Channel

The assisted dying debate is one the Channel Islands has seen before. Hundreds protested in Guernsey two years ago on both sides of the argument and in May 2018 Guernsey's government rejected proposals that may have seen assisted dying legalised.

Now almost three years later, the conversation has come to Jersey and it is an issue, provoking strong views on both sides.

Dr Gordon Macdonald, from the UK based alliance group 'Care, not Killing', believes any change in the law to allow assisted suicide or euthanasia would place pressure on vulnerable people to end their lives for fear of being a financial, emotional or care burden upon others. 

He is concerned that if Jersey chooses to change its legislation it could set a trend for other jurisdictions to follow suit.

Dr Gordon Macdonald from 'Care, not killing' is concerned Jersey would set an example that others would then choose to follow. Credit: ITV Channel

Michael Talibard from Jersey's End of Life Choices group believes people should have the right to decide how and when they die.

He joined the group after losing a close friend who wanted to go to Dignitas but she passed away before she could.

Michael Talibard believes people should have the right to choose how and when they die. Credit: ITV Channel TV

Some though, believe palliative care should be the only option for those coming to the end of their life.

Dr John Stewart-Jones is a retired GP who is now a practicing pastor in Jersey. He believes life is precious and should be treasured.

Dame Cicely Saunders, the Founder of the Modern Hospice Movement, is often quoted as saying you matter to the end of your life. Credit: ITV Channel TV

The last meeting of the Citizens’ Jury will take place on 15 May 2021. After this, the initial recommendations will be published in early June. The jury’s full recommendations will be written up as a report over the summer and presented to the States Assembly in the autumn.

If the jury concludes assisted dying should be permitted in Jersey, they will be asked to recommend the circumstances under which it should be permitted. If they think it should not be allowed they will be asked to explain their reasons. It is likely the States Assembly will then debate these conclusions before the end of 2021.