Almost every year in the last decade, various U.K. parliaments have debated and rejected attempts to legalize assisted suicide. Defeat has not seemed to deter pro-euthanasia lobbies.

Guernsey, an island in the English Channel between England and the coast of France, could have become the first place in the British Isles to legalize assisted dying. Both sides of the debate considered Guernsey an important test case for their cause. There was intense lobbying, and all sides were aware the vote would have repercussions well beyond Guernsey.

Leading the campaign for change in the law was the island’s chief minister, Gavin St Pier.

St. Pier had to change tack several times. His original bill, for instance, contained no age restrictions, so under it even children may have been killed.

After a three-day debate the requete — similar to a private member’s bill — was defeated 24-14 on May 17. Much to the satisfaction of campaigners opposing the change, the Guernsey Parliament voted to work on better care for terminally ill people.

Campaigners seeking change said they believed the majority of Guernsey citizens supported a change in the law and that one day Guernsey will adopt it. The campaign group Care Not Killing welcomed the decision and called the proposals dangerous.

“The current law on Guernsey is clear — it protects those who are sick, elderly, depressed, or disabled from feeling under pressure to end their lives,” said Dr. Peter Saunders, CNK’s campaign director.

A written judgement will be handed down later this summer in the case of 68-year-old Noel Conway, who is terminally ill with motor neuron disease. The U.K. Court of Appeal heard his case in the same week as Guernsey’s decision.

John Martin

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