Politicians in Jersey have taken the first major steps toward legalising both euthanasia and assisted suicide.
Bishop Philip Egan of Portsmouth, the diocese which includes the Channel Islands, described the move as a “devastating” development which would put the lives of elderly people in grave danger.
Members of the States Assembly voted by 36 to 10, with three abstentions, in favour of a proposition to introduce doctor-assisted death for people who are either terminally ill or judged to be suffering unbearably from an incurable physical condition.
Legislators will draft safeguards and processes in 2022 in preparation for a Bill that will go before the assembly in 2023.
Bishop Egan told the Catholic Herald that the move was a “very sad development” which would pave the way for a “very different society”.
“We have been working very hard in Jersey to persuade hearts and minds to see that ultimate value of life but I am very sorry that the politicians seem to think differently.
“There is obviously a process yet before this will actually go into law but it’s an indicator of the direction of travel,” he said. “We are clearly en route to a very different type of society in the future.
“It’s going to be very hard for doctors – many doctor are opposed to this … A lot of doctors have already expressed that they are against this,” he continued.
“But my fears are particularly for the elderly. I am just worried that a lot of older people will think ‘I am a burden on others, I have nothing to give to society, I have got my family (to think about)’ and they will be encouraged to commit suicide.”
Bishop Egan also predicted that the law would lead to greater discrimination against disabled people.
“Already that’s in place with abortion,” he said, alluding to the 1967 Abortion Act that allows doctors to kill babies up to and during birth if they are disabled. “My fear now is that it will apply at the end of life too.”
He added: “This sort of thing also changes in the long run the whole concept of palliative care and we have made so many advances that there is no need for this.”
In the UK, about 90 per cent of doctors working in palliative care oppose assisted suicide and euthanasia, the highest among any speciality.
There are also 12 groups formed by disabled people to represent their interests and none of them support either assisted suicide or euthanasia.
Evidence from countries in which such practices are legal shows that “fear of being a burden” is a greater motive than fear or experience of pain in driving sick and elderly people to ask for euthanasia or assisted suicide.
Bishop Egan added: “I think we just have to keep reiterating our basic message – the value of human life.
“I think we can give support to other secular organisations which also share our values. Sometimes they can be more effective.
“It is a sad development but at the same time we live in hope by our faith and I think to have to look for other ways of getting across the basic message – you shall not kill. It is accepted by every country in the world that you don’t kill people.”
If the law goes through, it will make Jersey, a Crown Dependency, the first British territory to legalise assisted suicide and euthanasia.
It would put pressure on mainland Britain to introduce similar laws there. At present the Assisted Dying Bill of Baroness Meacher, chair of Dignity in Dying, the group formerly known as the Voluntary Euthanasia Society, is progressing through the House of Lords while a similar Bill is due to be introduced into the Scottish Parliament by Liam McArthur, a Liberal Democrat MSP.
Sarah Wootton, chief executive of Dignity in Dying, described the vote as a “victory for common sense and compassion”.
She said: “We commend Jersey’s States Assembly for their open-mindedness. History will remember those who did the right thing and stood up for dying citizens, as well as those who did not.”
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