Jersey to launch British Isles’ first ever citizens assembly on assisted dying
Announcement comes amid growing calls for Westminster inquiry into UK’s current assisted dying laws, says Dignity in Dying.
The Government of Jersey has announced that it will launch a ‘Citizen’s Jury’ on assisted dying, the first in the British Isles. The randomly selected group of residents will meet in the spring and summer to discuss assisted dying, answer questions from an independent advisory panel and speak to expert witnesses from all sides, before giving recommendations to the States Assembly ahead of a debate at the end of this year.
In 2019, the Government of Jersey committed to conducting detailed research into end-of-life choices, including assisted dying, which would investigate the views of residents, overseas developments and potential legislation. An independent poll of residents published in August 2019 found high public support, with support highest (70%) when the option of assisted dying is limited to mentally competent people with an incurable medical condition which will cause death in the next six months (4insight, 9 August 2019).
The announcement comes amid growing calls in England and Wales for the Ministry of Justice to launch an inquiry into the functioning and impact of current laws on assisted dying. In a Westminster Hall debate on 23 January 2020, a majority of speakers from all parties backed a call for evidence on existing legislation, which constitutes a blanket ban on assisted dying across the UK. In recent months, half of all Police and Crime Commissioners across the country, religious leaders including the former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey, hospice leaders, terminally ill people, and families who have been criminalised under the current law have supported Dignity in Dying’s calls for the Secretary of State for Justice, Robert Buckland, to launch an inquiry into the wide-ranging impacts of current legislation.
Last month the Parliament of the Isle of Man, another British Crown Dependency, also debated assisted dying. Wrecking and delaying amendments were defeated, and Dr Alex Allinson MHK, who brought the motion, said the debate on 22 January 2020 had delivered on its aim to promote discussion.
In May 2018, the States of Guernsey debated assisted dying proposals, which were defeated despite high public support. In July 2018, the Legislative Assembly of the Falkland Islands, a British Overseas Territory, voted to support two motions on assisted dying: that terminally ill residents should have the right to die at a time and place of their choosing; and that should legislation be introduced in the UK, the Falkland Islands would consider adopting it.
Sarah Wootton, Chief Executive of Dignity in Dying, which campaigns for a change in the law to allow assisted dying as a choice for terminally ill, mentally competent adults, said:
“The Government of Jersey should be commended for grasping the nettle on assisted dying and engaging its citizens in this important debate, particularly when public support for a change in the law is so demonstrably high. The Ministry of Justice in Westminster also has a duty to listen to calls from across society for an inquiry into current laws on assisted dying, and similarly provide an open and honest platform for all views to be heard.
“Dignity in Dying is prepared to offer its expertise and extensive research into public attitudes on assisted dying, the functioning and impact of current laws across the British Isles, and the growing number of jurisdictions overseas which have enacted safe, compassionate assisted dying legislation. It is also crucial that the most important voices – terminally ill people and their families – remain central in these discussions.
“What is abundantly clear is that the blanket ban on assisted dying does not work. With one Brit travelling to Switzerland for an assisted death every week, 300 terminally ill people ending their own lives in England every year, and many more suffering unbearably against their wishes, the status quo is causing real damage and is in urgent need of review in Jersey and in the rest of the UK.”