Isle of Guernsey to Debate Whether to Allow Assisted Dying

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Wednesday 16th May 2018

The Chief Minister of Guernsey is to propose a bill that would allow terminally ill patients to end their lives with the assistance of a doctor, which would be the first place in the British Isles to do so.

Chief Minister Gavin St Pier has said he is introducing the proposal to boost the rights of the individual. He goes on to say that whilst a person can write a living will and can refuse treatment, they do not have any control over when they die, which is a breach of their rights.

The States of Deliberation, which is the parliament of Guernsey debated the issue on 16th May, with the 40 deputies asking whether they support assisted dying on principle.

If the motion is passed, a consultation lasting eighteen months will work out the details for who would be eligible, as well as safeguards for vulnerable patients.

St Pier has expressed interest in following the model used in Oregon, United States of America. Oregon’s assisted dying legislation is allowed for people of sound mind who have less than six months left of their life.

It is an emotive issue and the vote is expected to be very close.

Whilst it has support from the chief minister, other deputies and figures in Guernsey have concerns. Emilie Yerby, deputy for the Western Isles, said that the proposals would put the most poor and marginalised at risk of being steered towards an assisted death even if they do not really want that, and that it is the government’s duty to protect vulnerable people from this.

The Very Reverend Tim Barker, dean of Guernsey, voiced concerns about the lack of detail in the proposals, and worried that deputies were making a decision before they knew how an assisted dying scheme would work and what steps would be taken to protect vulnerable people.

Not everyone is opposed to the proposal however. Joyce Scott, a 92 year old resident of the island is campaigning in favour of assisted dying. She has said that if she was unable to take care of herself and could not move, she would not want to continue living. To this end she has saved £10,000 to travel to the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland, a decision she has discussed with her three sons.

Guernsey, population of roughly 65,000 is neither part of the UK nor the EU, being a Crown dependency of Great Britain. It is able to set its own laws, with approval of the Privy Council, which means that among other changes to the law, sixteen year olds have the right to vote.

How the new proposals will affect the UK however will be also debated depending on the result of this. Mr St Pier has expressed that he would want it restricted to only residents of the island. There would also need to be a change in UK law to avoid Guernsey doctors from being prosecuted should the bill be passed.