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Channel Islands Humanists statement on assisted dying

The following statement was published in its entirety in Tuesday’s Guernsey Press and Star and has been sent to all the Island’s Deputies:

As a group, Channel Islands Humanists brings together and represents non-religious people across the Bailiwicks of Guernsey and Jersey. We call upon islanders to support proposals for legal assisted dying in Guernsey, which are set out in a requête (similar to a private member’s bill) put forward by Gavin St Pier, Chief Minister, and which will be debated by the States on 16th May.

The proposals permitting assisted dying will bring a new approach to the end of life care, one based on compassion and respect. It will permit adults who are of sound mind, are terminally ill or, perhaps, enduring incurable, inexorable suffering, the information, the support and the means, to end their life at the time of their choice, subject to certain, stringent safeguards. People who have freely and without coercion determined that they no longer wish to endure suffering may opt for a dignified death. As medical science has become more advanced, so too has our ability to keep people alive for longer than ever before. This development is to be welcomed but it also means that many people end up suffering for longer before they die. Such changes, therefore, are needed more now than at any other time in our history.

Last month, leaders of several Christian denominations in Guernsey formed a coalition and several representatives signed an open letter, stating opposition to the proposals. They wrongly stated that an individual’s choice over how much suffering they should endure should not be the prime consideration in the debate around assisted dying. The importance of choice, however, having autonomy over one’s own body and having that autonomy respected by law cannot be overstated.

To suggest that ‘living life in all its fullness’ must involve suffering or that pain towards the end of life is somehow ennobling is a position that fundamentally lacks compassion. It should be for the individual to determine what is and what is not enriching their experience of life. No other body, whether a religious organisation or the state, should judge how much or what type of pain a person should endure.

It has also been suggested that this change would place vulnerable groups at risk of being coerced into an assisted death. Although this concern is understandable, it is misplaced. The proposals will ensure that strict, legal safeguards are in place and empower people to make rational choices over their end of life care, free from coercion.

Bronwyn Parry, Professor of Global Health and Social Medicine at King’s College London, recently published an article in the British Medical Journal, in which she stated that ‘growing evidence from jurisdictions worldwide that have adopted assisted dying legislation shows that safeguards can work. Assisted dying laws in the US have led to no reports of abuse and no extension of eligibility criteria.’ She continues: “Society would be incapable of moving forwards on many issues, from the cloning of organisms to disclosure of patient information, if we were to accede that ethical complexity fatally compromises our ability to generate thoughtful, nuanced regulation.”

Assisted dying would neither detract from nor undermine the high quality palliative care provided by hospices and health care professions towards the end of life. The choice of an assisted death should not be instead of palliative care for terminally ill people, but a core part of comprehensive, patient-centred approaches to end of life care.

The current restrictions often mean that the autonomy and needs of patients are disregarded and families are placed in the immensely difficult position of being unable legally to help their loved ones enact their wishes, and must watch their suffering needlessly prolonged.

The National Centre for Social Research has consistently shown that the British public are strongly in favour of legalising assisted dying. The church groups that expressed opposition to the requête do not represent the majority view. Gavin St Pier submitted the proposals after seeing a loved one suffer unendurably. He was motivated by compassion for others who may find themselves in a similar position, a position that we should all respect and support.

Notes

For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK’s Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson at richy@humanism.org.uk or on 0781 55 89 636.

Read more about Humanists UK’s campaigns work on assisted dying: http://humanism.org.uk/campaigns/public-ethical-issues/assisted-dying/

At Humanists UK, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. Our work brings non-religious people together to develop their own views, helping people be happier and more fulfilled in the one life we have. Through our ceremonies, education services, and community and campaigning work, we strive to create a fair and equal society for all.

Channel Islands Humanists is part of Humanists UK.

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