Guernsey rejects assisted suicide

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Guernsey’s government rejects proposals to allow assisted dying, after objections from religious leaders, doctors and disability groups.

Opposing views expressed before Guernsey parliament’s debate on May 16th, included:

The Roman Catholic Bishop of Portsmouth, Bishop Philip Egan:

“…the current proposal in Guernsey to legalise assisted suicide, so-called ‘mercy killing,’ is fundamentally subversive, horrific and dangerous, however well-intentioned…Assisting someone to die prematurely or assisting someone to commit suicide, even when they earnestly request it, can never ever be a compassionate action. It is a grave sin…. So I appeal to all people of good will in Guernsey to overturn this grim proposal coming before the State legislature, and at the same time to redouble the compassionate care of those who are frail and terminally ill. Let there be no death-clinics in Guernsey.” (letter to Guernsey parishes, Palm Sunday 2018)

The Very Reverend Tim Barker, Dean of Guernsey, on behalf of a group of 45 Guernsey churches from all denominations, who wrote an open letter to the Guernsey press on 16th April, saying the proposal is misplaced and a danger to the community:

The current law in Guernsey is clear and in line with the rest of the UK. It exists to protect vulnerable, elderly and disabled people from feeling pressure, whether real or imagined, into ending their lives, as we have seen in Oregon and Washington. In both US states, a majority of those ending their lives cite fear of being a burden on their families and carers as a reason for wanting to kill themselves. Furthermore, in many places where assisted suicide and euthanasia have been legal for some time, so-called safeguards have been eroded, or completely abandoned. This helps to explain why not a single major group of doctors, including the BMA, Association for Palliative Medicine and the medical Royal Colleges, backs changing the law on either assisted suicide or euthanasia. The movement against the introduction of assisted dying in Guernsey is a broad coalition of parties including those living with disabilities, the hospice movement, the medical professions and concerned Guernsey people as well as the churches.

Paralympian, Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson, recorded a film for a campaign meeting against the proposal:

“The voices of disabled people really matter and must be considered very carefully in this debate.  We have to be honest and clear that no law is perfect, but on an issue such as this, a matter of life and death, we need to be absolutely certain there will be no unintended consequences or collateral damage. That’s an awful and inhumane phrase, but it’s sadly apt for this debate. There’s an extremely fine line between one person’s choice and another person making a decision because they think it’s what other people want them to do. As a disabled person, I see it so much that many people think that I have no quality of life and I am bound to be a burden to people around me, to my friends and my family. And if there was a state approved means of obtaining assistance to end life, on a bad day or a low ebb it wouldn’t take much for disabled people to consider that the people they love might be better off without them and that’s an awful thing to come to terms with. I am so glad the choice is not available to me, as I’m sure is the case for the overwhelming majority of disabled or vulnerable islanders. As someone with a great fondness and connection to Guernsey, I would urge islanders to think very carefully about whether this is a road down which Guernsey should travel. You might not like where it leads.”

Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain, chair of Interfaith Leaders for Dignity in Dying:

“Guernsey’s upcoming assisted dying vote has sparked fierce opposition by some members of the clergy on the island and beyond, who condemn the concept as against the sanctity of life. While this is an opinion that is sincerely held and should be respected, it is misleading to present this as a definitive religious view. There are a great many people of faith, including former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey and Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, who value life just as much, but who see no sanctity in suffering and nothing holy about agony. It is a travesty of religious principles to force the terminally ill to live on against their will and to make them die in pain because of someone else’s theological idée fixe, and I sincerely hope this does not come to pass on Guernsey.”

Andrew Copson, Chief Executive Humanists UK:

“Being able to die, with dignity, in a manner of our choosing should be a fundamental freedom for every person. For some people that will mean medical assistance to end their lives and with compassion and humanity as their compass in this, lawmakers everywhere should change the law to allow it. I hope that the States of Guernsey will lead the way in these islands.”

Dr Brian Parkin, President of the Guernsey and Alderney division of the British Medical Association:

“The British Medical Association represents doctors with a range of views on the issue, but since 2006 the consensus of the organization nationally has been to oppose assisted dying in all its forms, and support the current legal framework which allows for compassionate and ethical care for the dying to enable people to die with dignity. Safeguarding the vulnerable is paramount in such a debate. There is no Mental Capacity legislation in Guernsey which is an essential safeguard to ensure that a person has the ability to make the decision to die. The continued investment and development of the high-quality palliative care services in Guernsey involving all health care professionals – and their focus on “End of life care plans” should be prioritised.”

Sarah Wootton, Chief Executive of Dignity in Dying:

“Guernsey now has the chance to join the ever-growing number of jurisdictions around the world which have listened to the wishes of dying people and introduced compassionate, safe and evidence-based assisted dying laws. From California to Canada, Vermont to Victoria, politicians have examined the limits of palliative care, learnt from overseas developments and concluded that it is quite possible – and necessary – to craft legislation that provides choice to terminally ill people while protecting the rest of society. Westminster MPs had the opportunity  to do the same in 2015 but failed to. Whatever the outcome of the vote in Guernsey, it is clear that change is coming – the only question is ‘when’.”


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