Guernsey could become first place in British Isles to have a suicide clinic with vote on assisted dying laws

Stephen Walter
Guernsey could become the first place in the British Isles to have a suicide clinic - www.Alamy.com

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.

However, sources have told the Mirrorthat the plans look likely to get the green light. If so, it could open up a pathway for UK mainland residents to travel to Guernsey to end their life if they so choose.

Campaigners in the UK who have long sought a change in the law to legalise assisted dying are likely to be paying close attention to proceedings in the hope of overhauling the law on the mainland. Currently, patients wishing to end their lives travel to Switzerland, where the practice is legal.

Although Guernsey lies within the British Isles in the English channel and its residents hold British passports, it has its own legislative body and has the freedom to pass its own laws.

Yet the UK Government has powers to intervene if there are implications for the UK, and the matter will go before the Privy Council. The mainland can also oversee legal changes on immigration and defence matters.

Gavin St Pier, the island’s top politician, told the Mirror he is backing the proposal for terminally-ill adults who are mentally competent and have been given six months or less to live.

He said: “This is about giving people choice and a sense that they have some control themselves, rather than being frightened, out of control and in the hands of others. That for me is why it is such an important issue.”

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He added: “I have personal experience of my father who died nine years ago. His death from cardiovascular disease was very distressing...It was not a comfortable death and it was also not the death that he would have chosen for himself had he had the choice.”

At the forefront of proposals will be measures to protect the vulnerable, while the cost is likely to be covered by the island’s health service for residents, it was reported. Doctors' rights to object to requests will also likely be considered.

Assisted dying is illegal in the UK under the Suicide Act of 1961, and carries a sentence of up to 14 years prison.

However if it is legalised, it would allow a person the choice to control their death if they decide their suffering is unbearable.

On average, a British resident travels to Switzerland every eight days for an assisted death, usually at the Zurich clinic of Dignitas at a cost of £10,000.

Campaigners, including Dignity in Dying, have produced research suggesting 82 per cent of the public were in favour of assisted dying being legalised.

Guernsey previously tried to legalise it in 2002, but plans were dismissed.

While it could open the door to the possibility of mainland nationals travelling to Guernsey, some believe that if passed the law should be limited to local residents only.