Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain writes in The Times on Guernsey’s plan to allow assisted dying.
If a butterfly’s wing-beat in China can cause a storm in the UK, then what is happening in Guernsey may have an even more dramatic effect here. A proposal has been tabled at its parliament to permit assisted dying and indications are that it could be passed next month. If so Guernsey will not only be the first place in the British Isles to permit the procedure, it will also raise an urgent question: why cannot those living in the whole of the UK benefit from it too?
It is important to distinguish assisted dying from suicide, whereby people who might otherwise live for several years take their own lives, and also from euthanasia, whereby someone decides to end a person’s life without their consent.
Assisted dying has the two red lines of only being open to those already dying, and who both take the decision and activate the process through their own free will.
But unlike the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland, which is open to all, the Guernsey clinic would just be for residents of the island. It means that other British citizens facing death, and who do not wish to carry on living in an increasingly debilitated state, would be left with three bad options. They could go to Dignitas, but that is expensive and entails bringing forward their death to a time when they are still healthy enough to travel abroad. It also means dying away from familiar surroundings and family.
Alternatively they could try suicide, but that can be botched, leaving one worse off, or if successful, can be traumatic for relatives. Or they could carry on, despite desperately wanting to let go.
But in whose interest are we forcing people to live on against their will? There is nothing sacred about suffering, nor anything holy about agony. Of course, many people will wish to live until their very last breath. That is their right, and another red line, but many would like to know they have a choice should their condition become unbearable.
The case for Britons on the mainland to have that option is even stronger now that exactly the same system of assisted dying has been legal in Oregon for 20 years and analysis shows that none of the opponents’ original fears has been realised. There has been no slippery slope in the protections established to prevent any abuse, palliative care agencies there now support it, the actual number going ahead is small but the reassurance value is enormous, and end-of-life care is now much more openly discussed.
Why might those in Guernsey be able to avoid the unpleasant type of death they do not want, but the rest of us have to endure it?