A Citizens’ Jury has voted by a majority of nearly 80% to recommend that Jersey should permit assisted dying in a move welcomed by the husband of a terminally ill islander, who spent his final months campaigning for change.
The group decided that it would be in favour of allowing the change for Jersey residents aged 18 or over, who have a terminal illness or are experiencing unbearable suffering and wish to end their lives, so long as stringent safeguards were in place.
They were not in favour of permitting assisted dying for those with mental health conditions.
While the findings have been shared today, it could be late 2022 before any laws change.
Here, Express explores the Citizens' Jury process, their findings, and what happens next in further depth...
The Jersey Assisted Dying Citizens’ Jury was established in Spring, comprised of 23 randomly selected islanders to provide a broadly representative sample of the population.
Pictured: The majority of the jury felt that assisted dying should only be for Jersey residents.
Jurors heard from a range of witnesses from around the world and the process was independently facilitated and overseen by an independent advisory group, who later approved the process.
The jurors considered the issue over 10 sessions in Spring 2021, with three votes taking place across that time, which included a primary vote, a vote of conditions, and an overall final vote.
The conditions relating to assisted dying agreed by the majority of the jury were:
Assisted dying should only be for Jersey residents.
Those with terminal illness or those experiencing unbearable suffering should be eligible for assisted dying.
Those with suffering from mental health should not be eligible.
Both Physician Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia as the mode of assisted dying should be permitted.
There should be a court or specialist tribunal involved in the decision process before an assisted death.
Doctors and nurses should be the ones to assist or administer assisted dying.
There should be a 'cooling off' period after a decision is taken – there was also support (40%) for this period being dependent on the circumstances of the individual.
Granting advance permission for assisted dying should be allowed for those who could lose their capacity to do so, but only under certain circumstances.
Pictured: Just over half were in favour of allowing decisions about assisted dying in advance of an individual becoming incapacitated, under certain circumstances.
A majority of 78.3% voted that in the circumstances outlined in the second vote, they would be in favour of assisted dying being introduced to Jersey.
A report produced following the Citizens' Jury decision contained a number of comments from the jurors.
Some were strongly in favour of assisted dying to be introduced, with one saying that “people should be allowed to die with dignity.”
One pointed out that for some, simply living is not “life”. “[People] may be sedated to reduce pain, but... is being under sedation living?” they questioned.
Others put the emphasis on personal choice, arguing: “...We should not be the ones to decide what choice they have, only how best to make sure they live in the best way possible.”
Some said they were in favour of assisted dying, but only if the system was robust, warning: “...If we are to offer assisted dying, we need a robust, secure and compassionate process that is multidisciplinary in nature with safeguarding being the key focus.
“If we're not confident in the process and the safeguards, the assisted dying debate needs to continue.”
While only 21.7% of the panel was against assisted dying by the final vote, those who were felt strongly.
One criticised the entire process, saying that the “jury was not a satisfactory debate", and also commented that “Jersey doesn’t even need [assisted dying].”
Another disagreed on the basis that, in their view, “palliative care within Jersey should [be] paramount and become stronger.”
Pictured: The Jury voted that doctors or nurses should be the ones to assist or administer assisted dying.
“...Our health professionals take an oath to support the living and although sadly some people wish to leave on their own terms due to circumstances it’s unfair to put this on our incredible health professionals," they added.
However, the juror said they did support changing the law so that those who wish to travel to Dignitas – an assisted dying centre in Sweden – would be able to do so “without prejudice and repercussions upon their arrival home.”
Paul Gazzard, husband of Jerseyman Alain du Chemin, who provided personal testimony to the Citizens' Jury and wrote an open letter to States Members before his death on 1 May 2021, praised the decision.
“Alain’s message was simple: banning assisted dying does not work for terminally ill people or their loved ones. He devoted his final months to fighting for change, knowing it would likely come too late for him,” he said.
“Alain would have been delighted to learn that the citizen’s jury and the people of Jersey are wholeheartedly behind his calls for greater choice and control for terminally ill islanders."
Pictured: Alain du Chemin (right) had campaigned to have assisted dying legalised in the island before his passing in May this year.
Dr Nigel Minihane, GP and chair of the Jersey Primary Care Body, said: “Before his death, Alain appealed to States Members to take up this opportunity to give the people of Jersey the right to die on their own terms. I sincerely hope they do.”
“As a doctor my role is to support my patients to live well, and also to die well when the time comes.
“Central to that is autonomy and a patient’s right to choose what is best for them, but our current law denies terminally ill people the ultimate choice over how, when and where they die.
“I believe, as do the Jersey public, that the evidence is now overwhelmingly in favour of enabling this choice for those who are in their final months and mentally competent, as an additional option within end of life care.”
Sarah Wootton, Chief Executive of UK campaign group Dignity in Dying said that the organisation had commissioned a poll on the matter, which found 90% of the poll's 873 Jersey respondents supported a law change, and 76% felt it is important that the topic is debated within the current political term.
“The people of Jersey have declared loud and clear that they want a safe, compassionate assisted dying law. The Government now has a clear mandate: to listen to its citizens and grasp this opportunity to become a world-leader on end-of-life choice,” she said.
“Momentum for change is building right across the British Isles, with three jurisdictions due to debate assisted dying this year.
“Law-makers on Jersey can and should lead the way; recognising that the current choices available to dying people are not sufficient, and that the time has come to pass a safeguarded assisted dying law for those who really need it.”
The Citizens' Jury's recommendations will be followed by a full report in September, around which time the Council of Ministers will lodge a proposition asking States Members to vote if they agree ‘in principle’ with the decision.
If this is agreed, policy officers will then start drafting law, though it would be “unlikely to be before the end of 2022” before this legislation was voted on.
Health Minister Deputy Richard Renouf said: “I would like to thank the Citizens’ Jury for their time and their commitment to this sensitive and complex issue.
“It is important to recognise that I am publishing the recommendations of the Citizens’ Jury, not the stated position of Government."
Pictured: The Health Minister said that it will be up to States Members to make the final decision on whether to allow assisted dying on the island.
He added: “Clearly the work that the Jury has done will provide invaluable insight for Assembly members who will ultimately determine how to proceed.
“In the event the Assembly agreed with the Jury recommendations, work will commence on amending the law in consultation with key stakeholders including regulators and professional registration bodies.”
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