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Dean of Guernsey explains why he'd prefer to see 'assisted living' to assisted dying

Wed 16 May 2018
By Cara Bentley

Guernsey could take a step towards legalising assisted dying when its parliament concludes its debate on whether to allow terminally ill people to end their lives with the help of a doctor.

The States of Guernsey will consider whether it agrees in principle with a bill tabled by the island's chief minister Gavin St Pier.

If the 40-strong parliament agree an 18-month consultation will be carried out.

The Channel Island would become the only place in the British Isles to legalise assisted dying if the bill then passes into law.

The Dean of Guernsey, Tim Barker told Premier: "There's been a huge amount of discussion in Guernsey about this matter over the last few weeks, it's dominated the media and the local paper and a lot of discussion. I think a lot of the conversation is about autonomy and about freedom of choice but the problem with freedom of choice is that we don't live in isolation and the choices we have impact on other people."

"The main objection...is that this would be an absolutely fundamentally change in the moral position which is clearly a Christian one and transcends religion and ethical systems - that importance of the state doing what it can to preserve life and not taking."

He spoke about how Christians have got involved: "The church leaders quite early in the debate joined together in an almost unprecedented, I think, open letter to the people of Guernsey raising our concerns about the proposals, which I think was a significant moment in the debate about a month ago,

"Within the churches it's difficult to tell the views of all church members because we haven't done any sort of polling. Clearly there are those who think the choice the autonomy is important but there are also very many people who are deeply concern with the prospect with the state allowing the taking of life - even if it's done for what seems to be the most deeply compassionate reasons."

He continued by saying society has never sanctioned taking another's life and that this change would be "radical". 

He said he is praying that the proposal will not be passed but that "assisted living" would be better supplied. 

Assisted dying is banned in the UK, while as a British Crown dependency Guernsey makes its own laws.

Guernsey's vote on the issue has been welcomed by campaigners who want it passed as "positive and progressive".

Earlier this month Noel Conway, a motor neurone disease sufferer from Shrewsbury, launched a legal bid to be given the right to enlist help from medical professionals to bring about a "peaceful and dignified" death.

Mr Conway, 68, wants to be helped to die and said he has made a "voluntary, clear, settled and informed" decision.

The retired lecturer proposed that he could only receive assistance to die if a judge determined that he meets all of those criteria.

He previously asked the High Court for a declaration that the Suicide Act 1961 is incompatible with Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which relates to respect for private and family life, and Article 14, which protects from discrimination.

His case was rejected in October last year, but a full appeal against that ruling began on May 1.

The Appeal Court heard that any change in the law on assisted dying should be made by politicians and not judges.

Lawyers representing the Secretary of State for Justice David Gauke argued Parliament represents the "conscience of the nation" and is better placed to consider the impact of changing the law in this "sensitive policy area".

In April Mr St Pier said: "Governments can choose to lead or they can choose to follow the will of the people; either way, giving terminally ill individuals their right to informed end-of-life choices is inevitable. The difference is simply: when?"

Sarah Wootton, chief executive at Dignity in Dying, said: "We should applaud the people of Guernsey for beginning this discussion and must hope that their positive, progressive example is followed here."

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