By William Church on behalf of the Jersey Dying Well Group
The jury was stacked in favour of assisted dying but the result is used as justification for changing the law
We cannot ignore lessons from Canada, where ‘assisted deaths’ have increased ten-fold in the past five years

JERSEY is currently midway through a consultation process looking at how to implement assisted dying in Jersey, but how have we got to this point? The current consultation is asking for public opinion on who would be eligible and how the process would be implemented. Many in our community remain shell-shocked that we are in this position at all.

In November 2021, the previous government voted ‘in principle’ to legislate for ‘assisted dying’ and to make arrangements for the provision of an assisted-dying service.

Prior to this, a citizens’ jury sat from March to May 2021, and it was their considerations that led to the current consultation.

What many people don’t know – and don’t appreciate – was that the selection of this jury was in no way balanced. Of the 23 people selected, 83% stated they were already either definitely or probably in favour of assisted dying, with the remaining 17% of the pre-selected group stating that they were either definitely or probably against assisted dying. The selection process was designed to match an unscientific poll, not a truly random process. Would you want to be tried in court by a jury with such clear bias when it was constituted? By the end of the jury process, 78% remained in favour of assisted dying – there had in fact been a change in attitude against the proposal.

This ‘78% in favour’ was taken at face value to recommend not only doctorassisted suicide but also euthanasia (the injection of lethal drugs) by a doctor or nurse.

The method used was, from the outset, heavily stacked in favour of assisted dying. And yet the result continues to be used as justification for legislation that is a threat in our society to the very existence of those who are vulnerable to coercion or are feeling like a burden to others.

In July 2021, the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Dying Well based in Westminster commissioned Survation, a polling and market research agency, to do a study using a telephoneconsultation method. They asked: ‘What do you understand by the term assisted dying?’ A large minority (42%) thought assisted dying was about withdrawing or withholding treatment, something that is already available and legally protected. A minority (10%) even thought that assisted dying was about hospice care. Only 43% understood it was about taking lethal drugs. This all begs the question of what the jury considered assisted dying to be.

If Jersey, through its parliament, decides to legalise physician-assisted dying as part of existing healthcare, teams and organisations will need to consider the consequences for the patients, families and staff in their care.

The term ‘assisted dying’ refers to physician-assisted suicide (patient given lethal drugs to take) and euthanasia (clinician-administered lethal injection).

Some legislatures will legislate for both while others only the former, although case law can easily extend physicianassisted suicide to euthanasia, and anyone being involved in such a debate should be absolutely clear as to what they understand by both terms.

The experience of other jurisdictions that have gone down this road – Canada, Belgium and Holland (Switzerland don’t report their figures) – suggest that for its population size Jersey would probably see between 30 and 50 people have their lives ended by lethal drugs each year.

We cannot ignore lessons from Canada, where ‘assisted deaths’ (mostly euthanasia) have increased ten-fold in the past five years to over 10,000 per annum, and where the Parliamentary Budget Office proudly quoted that the country’s health services saved an estimated Can$149 million (£89 million) in 2021 as a result of medically assisted dying. We would argue that using financial savings as a way to justify assisted dying simply isn’t right.

Those in favour of ‘having a choice’, who argue that people should be allowed to reserve the right to choose to have an assisted death, often air their concerns about the process and who would be eligible, and justify their argument stating that they would be in favour of safeguards to protect vulnerable people.

But these aren’t safeguards that can be verified, they are vague qualifyingcriteria. And so-called safeguards easily can, and have been, eroded in other jurisdictions.

Currently nothing in the consultation document explains how assessments would be conducted? How thorough will they be? In an island as small as Jersey, will one doctor cover up for another’s omissions? After all, many doctors countersigned Harold Shipman’s cremation forms thinking he was a good doctor.

How can States Members vote on something that hasn’t been properly thought through, and at a time when medical staff are already over-stretched, and we are short of doctors and nurses? Will we take them away from patient care for hours to do these assessments? The fact is that ‘good deaths’ don’t make headlines. Yet more and more people than ever before are dying well with the benefit of good palliative and hospice care, and it can get better.

As Baroness Finlay stated during her recent visit to the Island when discussing this topic and the duty of those in power: ‘In changing a law, you have to consider the potential unintended consequences.

The problem for a legislator is that you have to make sure that you are legislating for your whole population to be safe.’ We oppose moves towards assisted suicide and euthanasia. More detail about our main concerns can be found on our website

•William Church was writing as a professional media adviser to Jersey Dying Well Group.‘‘ hospice

The fact is that ‘good deaths’ don’t make headlines. Yet more and more people than ever before are dying well with the benefit of good palliative and care, and it can get better