Citizens' Jury votes overwhelmingly in favour of legalising assisted dying in Jersey

  • Video report by Iselin Jones

A panel of islanders has voted overwhelmingly in favour of making assisted dying legal in Jersey. 78.3% of the Citizens' Panel on Assisted Dying agreed that assisted dying should be permitted where a Jersey resident, aged 18 and over, has a terminal illness or is experiencing unbearable suffering and wishes to end their life.

Unbearable suffering was not to include suffering caused by a mental condition, like depression.

The majority voted in favour of both Physician Assisted Suicide, where drugs are prescribed by a doctor but administered by the individual at a time of their choosing, and Euthanasia, where death is administered by a doctor.

The panel also voted in favour of stringent safeguarding, including a pre-approval process via a specialist tribunal and a mandatory period of reflection or 'cool-down' between applying for an assisted death and the event occurring. It was also felt that direct assistance should be given by doctors and nurses only, not non-medically qualified staff. The panel was made up of 23 Jersey residents, selected at random to provide a broadly representative sample of the Island's population. They have undertaken over 10 jury sessions throughout the spring, hearing from experts and witnesses from around the world, selected to ensure balanced representation. The process itself was overseen by an Independent Advisory Panel, set up to ensure the integrity of the Jury Process. The recommendations will be followed by a full report in September. The Council of Ministers will then lodge a proposition asking the States Assembly to agree in principle, with the Jury, that assisted dying should be permitted. Minister for Health and Social Services, Deputy Richard Renouf, said the recommendations were those of the Citizens' Jury and not the position of Government, but that they would provide invaluable insight for the Assembly in due course.

The 'in principle' debate will take place before the end of this year. It is unlikely, however, that any real change will take place for some time or within this parliamentary term. Senior Policy Officer, Ruth Johnson, said there were 'several factors' which were 'out of our control'. One issue is that the General Medical Council (GMC) would have to agree to members of the profession playing a part in assisted deaths in Jersey, even if it was not yet legal in England. Private Members Bills making their ways through Parliament in London as well as Scotland, could however, pave the way for Jersey too. An assisted dying bill was introduced to the Scottish Parliament on Monday and a similar bill was introduced to the House of Lords last month, with its second reading expected in the autumn.

The GMC says doctors practicing in Jersey are required to be licensed and registered with the GMC meaning they must have due regard for the standards set.

The GMC says it's guidance is there to support doctors to act within the law, while providing "high quality end of life care and responding sensitively to patients who seek advice about ending their lives".

Sarah Wootton, Chief Executive of Dignity in Dying, which campaigns for a change in the law on assisted dying across the British Isles, said Jersey's government now has a 'clear mandate' to become 'a world-leader in end-of-life choice.'

Dr Nigel Minihane, GP and chair of the Jersey Primary Care Body, has also spoken out in support of the Panel's conclusions.

Paul Gazzard, widower of the late Alain du Chemin, who provided personal testimony to the Citizens' Jury before his death from brain cancer on 1 May, also welcomed the Panel's recommendations.

Paul Gazzard, widower of Alain du Chemin (left) who campaigned for a change in the law on assisted dying, has welcomed the recommendations.

The recommendations coincide with new polling by Dignity in Dying, which found that nine in 10 (90%) Jersey people support law change, with more than three-quarters (76%) wanting the topic debated within the current political term. Fewer than one in 10 (3%) said the island should wait to see what the UK does first on the issue. More than half (54%) said they would personally consider an assisted death overseas if they were terminally ill; which is costly, and comes with the risk of prosecution for loved ones accompanying them on their journey.

The UK-based alliance Care Not Killing is made up of individuals and organisations and says it is "disappointed" in the panel's recommendations and describes the report as "pushing a dangerous and ideological policy".