Guernsey Press

Churches unite against assisted dying ‘danger’

CHURCH leaders from all the island’s Christian denominations have formed a working party in opposition to the ‘danger’ of assisted dying legislation.

The Dean of Guernsey, the Very Rev. Tim Barker.

Deputies will debate whether to approve such legislation in principle at the States meeting on 16 May.

In an unprecedented move, the working party, named Churches in Guernsey, has written an open letter signed by 53 ministers, rectors, pastors, priests and church wardens, including the the Very Rev. John Guille, chairman of Les Bourgs Hospice.

It argues that ‘living life in all its fullness will include darker times, pain and sorrow’ and asks the people of Guernsey to ‘consider the profound change that assisted dying would introduce’.

Signatories from 41 island churches, include representatives from the Church of England, Methodist and Catholic denominations.

‘We are taking the exceptional step of writing to the people of Guernsey as Church leaders across a wide community of Christian witness,’ it reads.

‘Our concern is the proposal in the requete now laid before the States of Guernsey to be debated on 16 May to agree in principle to permit assisted dying. As ministers, priests and pastors we are often closely involved in supporting and caring for those in the latter stages of life and their close family and friends.

‘We welcome the attention and concern for this stage in life’s journey. However we believe the proposal to introduce a legal provision for assisted dying to be misplaced and indeed a danger for us as a community, particularly for the most vulnerable in our island.

‘“Choice” is used to justify this major change. However whilst “choice” is important, it cannot be the primary argument for life and death issues. Deeper ethical and moral considerations should have much greater weight in matters of island policy and law.

‘Individual “choice” is not an isolated event. We do not make choices in isolation from other people and society’s expectations.

‘Our decisions can also be influenced by profound life-changing events. A first reaction to news of a life-changing event such as dementia or a life-limiting illness can be to see this dramatic change in circumstances as the “end of life”. However, with love and support, the final stages can also have fulfilment and purpose.

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‘Mental health conditions like depression can also cause similar feelings to arise. To journey through these “dark times” in life we may require medical care and certainly the support of those who love us.

‘To assist in the death of another is essentially to assist in their suicide. A “choice” by the State to introduce assisted-dying will change our island and will be seen as a threat by people living with various disabilities, vulnerable people and ultimately, perhaps, by all of us, as we approach the end of our lives or journey with those we love at that final stage.

‘Christians, like other people of faith, believe in the intrinsic value of life. Every life is a gift that is precious and worthy of defence. Living life in all its fullness will include darker times, pain and sorrow. This is part of the rich diversity and tapestry of life that also provides opportunities for care, generosity, kindness and selfless love.

‘We believe the States of Guernsey should focus on the care of vulnerable people, support the Les Bourgs Hospice, increase mental health provision and care well for those with age-related dementia. As a community we need to celebrate and support all of life and not actively seek to terminate life.

‘We fully support the care that our wonderful nurses, doctors, specialists and those in the caring professions provide on the island. We understand the serious concerns raised by the Guernsey and Alderney division of the British Medical Association regarding the impact of assisted dying on medical practitioners in the Bailiwick.

‘We fear it could fundamentally change the patient/doctor relationship; threatening the trust that issuing life-ending prescriptions will bring.

‘Of the few other jurisdictions that have introduced assisted dying most have, over time, seen the initial safeguards eroded and criteria broadened to include other conditions beyond terminally ill people.

Current law protects the life of everyone and we are concerned that Guernsey could become an experiment in social change affecting all islanders with implications well beyond our shores.

‘We are asking the people of Guernsey to consider the profound change that assisted

dying would introduce. Our hope and prayer is that the requete is rejected by the States.

‘This is a life and death issue so please contact your deputies with your views, doing so

with the care and compassion that sustains our island community.’

In March, Mr Guille said Les Bourgs Hospice reflects the World Health Organisation ethos of hospice and palliative care which is that ‘it intends neither to hasten or postpone death’.