Isle of Man assisted dying bill one step closer to becoming law after passing through parliament

A bill which could see assisted dying legalised for the first time in the British Isles is one step closer to becoming law.

The proposals, brought by a GP, would see terminally-ill residents of the Isle of Man given the right to choose to end their lives

It has now won the support of the parliament, passing a vote by 17 to seven, during its second reading and an all-day debate.

As it was going on campaigners, both for and against the bill, gathered outside the House of Keys.

Politicians in the Isle of Man debated assisted dying in the House of Keys. Credit: ITV Granada Reports

Dr Alex Allinson introduced the Private Member’s Bill in 2022 in his capacity as a Member of the House of Keys (MHK) for the Ramsey area on the Island.

The GP, who is also the Isle of Man government’s Treasury Minister, said he is confident the Island’s parliament has the time to “craft the right bill” which he said could see assisted dying services offered as soon as 2025.

Following the debate he said: "Today marks the start of real change in the Isle of Man to give terminally ill people much-needed choice and protection at the end of life.

"I look forward to working closely with Tynwald members, healthcare bodies and clinicians as this Bill progresses.

"Together, we will improve the range of choices for people dying in the Isle of Man."

"If my husband was a dog I'd have been prosecuted"

Sue Biggerstaff, whose husband died from Motor Neurone disease, says had he had assisted dying an an option he would have "repeatedly" said yes to it.

Simon Biggerstaff was diagnosed with the degenerative disease in July 2021, and died in May 2022.

Just two months after his diagnosis he was paralysed from the neck down, and continued to tell his wife "I want to go".

“He really couldn't do anything," Sue said. "He was just just a rotting body with my Simon inside it, that's what you’re left with.

"If the option had been there before those last two days, then yes [we'd have taken it] he repeatedly said 'I want to go'.

"I only go on my experience of it, and he wanted it to stop."

She added: "I've got three dogs, I love my dogs but if I had one of them out there with his skin rotting away unable to move, just lay on the floor pooing and peeing itself, I'd be prosecuted.

"And yet my husband was expected to go through it. How is that right? It just can't be right."

Dignity in Dying, a pro-change campaign group, described it as a “victory for choice and compassion”.

Sarah Wootton, Chief Executive of the campaign group said: “MHKs have heard the overwhelming call for change from the Manx people and voted yes to dignity today.

“This is a historic vote, one which puts the Isle of Man on the path to become the first part of the British Isles to legalise assisted dying. It joins countries like Australia, New Zealand and the US by acknowledging that without choice, dying people suffer.

“This is a turning point in the movement for assisted dying, which is only going in one direction: towards giving dying people choice across the British Isles."

But there is concern legalising assisted dying could lead to "death tourism" where people come to the Isle of Man to take advantage of the law.

Dr Ben Harris, the President of the Isle of Man Medical Society, and a practitioner, who has worked in palliative care for 30 years, said: "There's great concern that there will be what you might call 'death tourism' where people will travel from other parts of the British Isles to the Isle of Man to request assisted dying.

"We don't restrict other health care for visitors to the Isle of Man, we have a reciprocal agreement, so I think it could be open to challenge."

And, while a recent poll suggests the public supports the bill, doctors are not as sure.

A survey by the Island's Medical Society found almost three quarters rejected the change, with more than a third considering leaving the island if it was approved.

One of the concerns is around assessing how long someone has to live.

Dr Harris added: "It's actually a very difficult thing to judge, almost impossible I would say.

"Only 10% of doctors felt it was straight forward to judge when a patient only had six months left to live."

There will be a further vote on Tuesday 7 November on the next steps for scrutiny of the legislation, after which MHKs can propose amendments to the Bill.

There will then be a Third Reading in the House of Keys before it progresses onto the Legislative Council.

The Bill should receive Royal Assent in 2024, followed by consideration of how the legislation will be implemented, with assisted dying likely to be available in the Isle of Man in 2025.