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Decision likely today in historic assisted dying debate

Decision likely today in historic assisted dying debate

Wednesday 24 November 2021

Decision likely today in historic assisted dying debate


Jersey's States Assembly have begun what some have called the “hardest” and “most challenging” debate they have faced, over a historic vote to allow assisted dying for over-18s. A decision is likely today.

Its eligibility criteria says that a person should have a "terminal illness which is expected to result in unbearable suffering that cannot be alleviated and is reasonably expected to die within six months,” or “an incurable physical condition, resulting in unbearable suffering that cannot be alleviated.”

The proposition was made in the name of  the Council of Ministers following a recommendation from a Citizen’s Jury of 23 islanders.

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Pictured: Home Affairs Minister Deputy Gregory Guida asked members to vote according to their conscience.

It was debated yesterday with an amendment from Deputy Kirsten Morel, which ensures processes and safeguards are considered in a follow-up debate if it is voted in.

Opening the debate, Home Affairs Minister Deputy Gregory Guida, said he would not be recommending members vote either way, rather asking States members to rely on their own conviction. 

“Neither the Council Ministers nor my Ministry are suggesting a vote in either way,” he said. 

“The only thing I will ask for is for all States members to have the courage to act according to their own conviction.”

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Pictured: Constable Andy Jehan was one of several States members who shared personal experiences in their speeches.

Constable Andy Jehan opened the debate in support of the proposal, addressing concerns by arguing it was “not to say we should not strive to improve end of life care for all,” and later adding it “would result in not more deaths but less people suffering.”

Illustrating his decision with a personal story from his own life, he mentioned a family member who passed away eight weeks ago, who despite “excellent care from Mont Cochon, preferred to go without morphine for as long as possible as when they took it, it confused them.  

“Instead, they preferred to be in pain and to suffer. Sadly that still ended up confused at times due to sleep deprivation.” 

He added that they had died without family around them, despite their wish they be there.

“Many of the correspondence we have had would have us believe that this was needed to go to a better place - I would prefer believe that there are better options,” he remarked.

One of the key arguments reiterated by those in support of the proposition was people’s human rights and autonomy over their bodies, with Senator Steve Pallet saying that it was “abhorrent that any group of people could deny another the right to choose.”

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Pictured: If the proposition were to go through, another debate on finalising safeguards would have to be had before assisted dying could be introduced.

Several personal stories were also told throughout the debate from those voicing their support, including Constable Karen Shenton-Stone, who spoke of the “unbearable suffering” two of her loved ones had been through, and said how "we have to consider the individual dying, their wishes and not the wishes of those around them, however close they may be."

Additionally, Deputy Trevor Pointon spoke of his previous experience with cancer and expressed that if it returned and was unmanageable, “rather than wait for an opioid-induced coma, I would choose to take my ending in to my own hands, but I would need assistance from a learned medical practitioner…”

Others spoke with caution about how safeguards would be handled whilst still voicing their support, such as Deputy Rowland Huelin, who said that “whilst I am in support today, I do not say I will support tomorrow - it is the safeguards that are paramount, especially protection against coercion which I will forensically examine if I am in the Assembly for the next debate.”

This caution was echoed by the Chief Minister, who said he was “persuadable” to change his view, but was “leaning” towards voting towards the proposition due to the ability it would give to have people die with “dignity.” 

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Pictured: Health Minister Deputy Richard Renouf said introducing assisted assisted dying would mean "accepting that we would be bringing about the early death of some people who need our protection."

On the other side, one of the most notable voices of opposition was Health Minister Deputy Richard Renouf, who said he felt “sadness that proposals here and in other jurisdictions to adopt assisted dying accept that vulnerable people will be put at risk by its introduction and accept that safeguards have limitations and will not always work.”

“To me that means accepting that we would be bringing about the early death of some people who need our protection - at present, those people have our protection, because no one can suggest to them that they have an option to bring about their death.”

Similarly, despite bringing forward the amendment, Deputy Kirsten Morel said that though he conceded it was looking like the proposal would be voted in and he agreed with the principle, he didn't think he could vote for it.

A particular concern the Deputy voiced was a lack of confidence in Jersey to deliver a safe system for assisted dying.

“I look at the picture of Jersey’s health system at the moment, which is undergoing enormous change, and I question whether we can deliver this, and that’s the reason why despite the fact in principle I’m in favour of this, I don’t think I can vote for it,” he remarked, noting that “maybe in ten years” when the system had changed, he would feel it could be done safely. 

Shortly after Deputy Morel’s comments, the Assembly was adjourned, and will continue this morning.

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