On average, a British resident is thought to travel to Dignitas every 8 days for an assisted death at a cost of £10,000. In England, Wales and Northern Ireland assisted dying is a crime with up to 14 years imprisonment, while in Scotland helping a person to die could lead to a prosecution for culpable homicide.
Now Guernsey's chief minister, Gavin St Pier, is backing a bill that would allow people from the mainland who meet the criteria and want to die to travel to the island to take advantage of the law. Guernsey has its own legislative body and freedom to pass its own laws but the UK government can intervene and send the matter before the Privy Council if there are implications for the UK.
Following high profile cases, such as for Diane Pretty who suffered from Motor Neurone Disease and Debbie Purdy who had Multiple Sclerosis, advocates for assisted suicide argued that the current law denies dying people a meaningful choice over how they die. If legislation is passed in Guernsey it will need to ensure:
- appropriate safeguards are in place to protect the vulnerable
- doctors have a right to object
- health professionals acting in accordance with legislation and guidance are not subject to medical malpractice litigation or referral to a regulator
Guernsey could become the first place in the British Isles to have a suicide clinic under proposals being put to a vote on the island in May. If pushed through by politicians, it would likely trigger an 18-month consultation period to pull together a legal framework to make the changes.