Story highlights

The island's chief minister says the bill is a human-rights issue

Opinions are divided in the political and religious realms

CNN —  

A small island 30 miles off the coast of France could soon become the first place in the British Isles to legalize medically assisted suicide.

Lawmakers on Guernsey, the second-largest of the Channel Islands, started debating a bill Wednesday that would eventually allow people to legally end their lives.

The bill, known as a requete, was introduced by Guernsey Chief Minister Gavin St Pier, who has championed the cause using the hashtag #mycaremychoice and who believes the question is one of basic human rights.

He wants to see legislation that would allow terminally ill people with less than six months to live to end their own lives with the help of a doctor.

“‘Human rights’ on any rationale interpretation simply must include the right of the terminally ill individual to make an informed decision of [sic] the end of life choice that they want for themselves,” he wrote on Twitter.

St. Pier also believes that change is unavoidable: “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,” he wrote in a tweet. “The difference is simply: when?”

The 40 lawmakers in Guernsey’s Parliament – known as the States of Deliberation – will eventually vote on whether to “agree in principle to the development of a suitable legal regime to permit assisted dying in Guernsey.”

An amendment put forward by St Pier last week in response to accusations of vagueness in the original proposal prioritizes the need to improve palliative care and capacity legislation and specifies that the process should be available only to “terminally ill adults resident in Guernsey with mental capacity and less than 6 months to live.”

Implications for the UK

If the measure passes, a period of consultation will follow, during which a working group will speak with relevant groups, including members of the public, medical professionals and the UK Ministry of Justice. The group will then produce a set of recommendations for how the regime could be implemented.

Key questions such as the role of doctors in the process and how vulnerable individuals can be protected would be addressed in these recommendations.

Responding to suggestions that the island could become a euthanasia destination, St Pier insists that the law will apply only to local residents. However, this aspect is part of the debate, along with the other specifics of the legislation.