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Assisted dying bill to be passed in the Isle of Man imminently?

A vote which could make assisted dying legalised for the first time in the British Isles is imminent. The doctor behind the bill, Alex Allinson, is ‘cautiously optimistic’ it will be instated.

Assisted dying is an incredibly difficult and sensitive subject to consider, but large parts of the public demand to be heard.

A parliamentary hearing and vote is imminent on whether euthanasia will be legalised in the UK’s Isle of Man. Dr Alex Allinson, a GP who is also the province’s Treasury Minister, brought the bill forward in 2022 and is confident it will be instated by 2025.

‘I think what it [the bill] does show is that appetite amongst our public, and their elected representatives, to bring forward progressive legislation that will provide for assisted dying,’ he said.

Specifically, the term ‘assisted dying’ refers to a situation in which someone who is terminally ill or has a debilitating condition of an incurable nature is helped to end their own life. Handled diligently on a case-by-case basis, successful requests would culminate in doctors administering fatal drugs in hospital or a hospice.

At present, assisting someone in ending their own life under any circumstances is a criminal offence that can carry a prison sentence of up to 14 years in the UK. In Canada, Switzerland, and the Netherlands, however, the act is considered lawful subject to strict conditions.

Wishing Britain to join this cohort, an ardent pro-change campaign group called Dignity in Dying has proclaimed the hearing as a ‘landmark vote’ for the Isle of Man. The statistics displayed on its website point to a wide public appetite for the reform to be introduced.

44% of UK residents would reportedly break the law to help a loved one die, 84% support the choice of assisted dying for the terminally ill, and 86% of people with a disability are in favour of the bill. It also suggests that 300 dying individuals take their own lives already every year in Britain.

At the other end of the scale, campaigners from Care Not Killing argue that such an ‘ideological policy’ would instantly present several key issues.

Fundamentally, it believes assisted dying perpetuates the message that terminal individuals are likely to die in terrible pain and that palliative care cannot help. Eliminating the possibility for coercion is also difficult when deciding if someone is eligible – particularly if mental deterioration has occurred.

While large parts of the public are seemingly in favour, the general opinion of the medical world is equally polarising. A recent survey by the Isle of Man Medical Society found nearly three quarters of professional respondents rejected the new laws.

Among those votes, Care Not Killing’s Dr Gordon Macdonald suggested that parliamentary intervention would be better served to bolster our existing healthcare systems, given ‘up to one in four Brits who would benefit from palliative care don’t get access to it.’

Expressing concern about the possibility of ‘death tourism,’ where people could travel from other parts of the British Isles to request legal euthanasia, Macdonald explained the difficulty of accurately predicting the life expectancy of terminally ill patients.

‘A survey found only 10% of doctors felt it was straight forward to judge when a patient only had six months left to live,’ he said.

Both sides of the argument are compelling. When you hear first hand accounts of how people are forced to endure a painful and undignified end to life, it’s hard to deny them and their families complete autonomy.

Equally, concerns over the logistics of how such a difficult reform could be implemented while eliminating dangers and unnecessary death are understandable.

All that’s left to do at this avenue, is to wait and see if the bill is voted through and elevated to a small committee or the whole of Parliament.