Guernsey to vote on assisted dying

Image caption Could Guernsey become the first place in the British Isles to introduce assisted dying?

Guernsey's parliament is to debate whether to introduce assisted dying. The island's chief minister, Gavin St Pier, is proposing a bill that would allow terminally ill people to end their lives with the help of a doctor.

It would be the only place in the British Isles to legalise assisted dying.

Mr St Pier said: "This is about the rights of the individual: they can make a living will and refuse treatment but do not have any control over the timing of their death.

"We believe that is fundamentally wrong and a breach of their rights."

The parliament, called the States of Deliberation, has 40 deputies, who will debate the issue on 16 May.

They will be asked whether they support the principle of assisted dying.

If the deputies pass the motion, an 18-month consultation will follow to work out eligibility details and safeguards.

Mr St Pier said he wanted to follow the "Oregon model" in the United States, where assisted dying is open to those who have less than six months to live and are of sound mind.

Both sides of the debate are expecting a close vote.

Vulnerable

Emilie Yerby, deputy for the Western Parishes, told me it would place the poor and marginalised at risk.

"If people don't have enough money for good quality end-of-life care, then it will make them more vulnerable to making the choice of an assisted death - even if that is not what they really want. And it is our duty as a government to protect those vulnerable people."

The dean of Guernsey, the Very Reverend Tim Barker, said he was concerned that deputies were being asked to make a decision before they knew the details of how such a scheme would work.

He said: "The more I've looked at it, the more uncomfortable I have become about whether there is a legislative framework that is safe for the most vulnerable people."

Image caption Clockwise from top left: Chief Minister Gavin St Pier, deputy Emilie Yerby, dean of Guernsey Tim Barker, Joyce Scott

A British Crown dependency, Guernsey is not part of the UK or the EU and is able to set its own laws.

Sixteen-year-olds have been able to vote in elections since 2008.

All legislation has to be approved by the Privy Council, a committee of senior politicians at Westminster, but this is usually a formality.

Guernsey has a population of about 65,000, the same as the seaside town of Torquay.

Eligibility

If deputies approve assisted dying, a key question will be whether this should be available to people from the UK.

Mr St Pier said he wanted it restricted to residents, but added that it would be a matter for deputies to decide.

Joyce Scott, who moved to Guernsey in the 1970s, is campaigning in favour of assisted dying.

Aged 92 and still healthy, she has nonetheless set aside £10,000 in order to pay for an assisted death at Dignitas in Switzerland.

Mrs Scott, who is widowed, said she had discussed the issue with her three sons.

"I've had a wonderful life and a very happy marriage, but if I was unable to look after my personal hygiene and could not move, that would be horrifying and I would not want to go on living," she said.

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