Jersey States to decide whether or not to introduce assisted dying

A person comforting somebodies hand.
If agreed it would not be voted on in law until 2023. Credit: ITV Channel TV

Jersey's States Assembly will decide this week whether or not in principle to allow assisted dying on the island.

The proposition is being debated after a citizens jury agreed overwhelmingly to recommend the law should be changed to allow assisted dying.

If the States Assembly were to vote in favour of the proposition then a law would be drafted which would detail how an assisted dying service would be set up.

However, the parliamentary timetable would mean members would not vote on the new law until after the election in 2022.

Background to the debate

The debate around assisted dying has been happening in jurisdictions across the world for many years.

In the Channel Islands the conversation began three years ago when campaigners in Guernsey started a petition which called on States members to consider the issue.

The proposals were brought forward by the former Chief Minister, Deputy Gavin St Pier but the plans were rejected by 10 votes after three days of debate.

Three years on Jersey began the discussion and process of looking at assisted dying by using a different approach.

The government appointed a citizens jury to examine and review what a potential law on assisted dying would look like.

The question specifically focused on "should assisted dying be permitted in Jersey and, if so, under what circumstances?"

What is a Citizens Jury?

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.

After 10 sessions the Citizen jury overwhelmingly voted in favour to allow assisted dying to any Jersey resident, aged 18 and over who had a terminal illness or is experiencing unbearable suffering and wishes to end their life.

However, the panel did agree that several points would need to be included:

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

  • Stringent safeguarding, including a pre-approval process via a specialist tribunal would need to take place.

  • there would need to be a mandatory period of reflection or 'cool-down' between applying for an assisted death and the event occurring.

  • That direct assistance should be given by doctors and nurses only, not non-medically qualified staff.

You can view the full proposition here.

Views from campaigners

Campaigners passionately argue for and against assisted dying for various moral, ethical, legal and personal reasons.

The late Alain du Chemin argued the law on assisted dying needed to be changed because in his view it's 'unfair' and 'unjustified'.

Following his diagnosis Alain married his partner Paul and went out to make memories. Credit: ITV Channel TV

He was diagnosed with a aggressive brain tumour in 2019 and was given 14 months to live.

He wanted control on the decision to 'die with dignity' and 'on his own terms'.

Arrangements had been made for him to go to assisted suicide centre, Dignitas in Switzerland, but due to the pandemic he never made it and peacefully died at Jersey Hospice Care in May 2021.

In contrast, Jersey's Health Minister Deputy Richard Renouf has openly said that he will not back the assisted dying legislation.

Speaking to ITV News earlier this year, Deputy Renouf personally highlighted examples from his previous job as a lawyer whereby he saw families putting pressure on individuals which could have influenced their decisions.

Richard Renouf believes that an individual could be misidentified as a burden. Credit: ITV Channel TV

Sarah Griffith is an activist and advocate for allowing assisted dying in Guernsey. She believes the island should hold a referendum on the topic.

Sarah hopes that the conversation in Jersey changes the momentum and starts a positive discussion around how assisted dying could be implement in Guernsey.

Sarah Griffith believes the conversation around death on a whole needs to change. Credit: ITV Channel TV

However, she thinks that there needs to be a general change in tone and stigma around the word 'death' so that it is more acceptable to plan for these things like you would in other aspects of life.

Former Chief Minister Terry Le Sueur, who is against assisted dying, believes the current proposition is vague and lacks information on how it would be implemented.

He believes that allowing assisted dying could open a 'can of worms' and that over time the checks and safeguards in place could be eroded and lead to dangerous consequences.

Terry Le Sueur thinks doctors should give advice and not make life changing decisions. Credit: ITV Channel TV