Douglas, Isle of Man, Jan 16, 2020 / 06:01 pm (CNA).- A proposal to survey lawmakers’ support to legalize assisted suicide on the Isle of Man drew criticism from disability groups and other foes of the practice, who say it promotes “despair” rather than support for the vulnerable.
“There is no safe system of assisted suicide and disabled people want help to live, not to die,” said the disabled persons’ advocacy group Not Dead Yet UK. The group asked residents of the Isle of Man to write their legislators to voice their concern and to call for opposition to the motion set for a Jan. 21 vote.
The group said it is “very concerned” by the proposed motion to determine whether the parliament, known as the Tynwald, is “of the opinion that legislation to allow for voluntary assisted dying should be introduced.”
The Isle of Man, a self-governing crown dependency located between England and Northern Ireland, has about 84,000 people.
Efforts to legalize assisted suicide have repeatedly failed to pass the legislature on the Isle of Man. The last vote, held in 2015, failed by 17-5.
Proponents of legalizing assisted suicide phrase it in terms of “assisted dying” or “aid in dying.”
One proponent, a Member of the House of Keys, the lower house of the Manx parliament, has proposed a motion to introduce legislation to legalize the practice. Dr. Alex Allinson said that if the initial reception of his motion is favorable he would introduce a private member’s bill and carry out a “full, public consultation,” the Manx news site IOM Today reports.
While a private member’s bill would not have support from any political party, he claimed to have the support of several backbencher legislators.
Allinson took a similar route when he sponsored the Abortion Reform Bill 2018, which resulted in one of the most permissive abortion laws in the British isles.
While the disability advocates of Not Dead Yet UK denied assisted suicide is ever safe, Allinson cited changes in the Australian states of Victoria and Western Australia, which in his view allowed assisted suicide with “protections against coercion.”
“An assessment of capacity is key to most medical procedures and policies and will need to be built into the consent process but there are clear examples around the world where this has been managed successfully,” he said.
While there have been previous reports and committee inquiries into assisted suicide on the isle, Allinson said there had been “a change in public attitudes towards supporting assisted dying,” BBC News reports.
“Such a debate is just the start of a potentially lengthy journey to achieve a change in our law,” he said.
“We know that people with terminal illness are taking their own lives on our island rather than suffer untreatable pain and anguish,” said Allinson. “This debate is not about the right to die, rather the right for those whose death is imminent to take control of how and where they die and to be able to plan with their families and loved ones to leave them with dignity at a time of their choice.”
The U.K. coalition Care Not Killing noted that the motion in favor of assisted suicide is listed below a Tynwald agenda item to receive a committee report on suicide and to approve 13 recommendations for suicide prevention and for psychological support of people experiencing “moderate to severe emotional reactions to illnesses.”
“These should serve as reminders that no group should be excluded from efforts to prevent suicide, including those influenced by serious illness,” the coalition said Jan. 13. Any proposal to legalize assisted suicide, it warned, tries to separate “those suicides which should be discouraged, and those which should be brought to fruition.”
“Members of Tynwald Court should focus on suicide prevention for all, and access to high quality palliative and social care for all, rather than settling for assisted suicide’s counsel of despair,” said Care Not Killing.
The group warned that there is no evidence that assisted suicide has become safer or easier to regulate, nor is there evidence that the Isle of Man’s provision of end-of-life care is so great “that no one could be driven to seek their own death for fear of being a care burden or financial drain.”
Care Not Killing is a coalition which includes both individuals and organizations like disability and human rights advocacy groups, healthcare providers, and faith-based groups. It opposes the weakening or repeal of laws against euthanasia and assisted suicide while promoting better palliative care.
Backers of legal assisted suicide include the group Isle of Man Freethinkers, which holds it a matter of personal autonomy “to make decisions about their life and death,” the group chairwoman Vicky Christian said, according to the BBC.
The Manx Catholic presence includes six parishes with seven churches. It is a pastoral area under the Archdiocese of Liverpool.
In 2015 both Catholic and Anglican leaders in England and Wales welcomed the British Parliament’s defeat of legal assisted suicide by a vote of 330-118.
Archbishop Peter Smith of Southwark, speaking on behalf of the Catholic bishops, said the U.K. parliament recognized “the grave risks that this bill posed to the lives of our society’s most vulnerable people.”
If the Manx parliamentary motion passes and results in legislation, and the legislation is passed in the House of Keys, the proposal would then head to the Legislative Council, the upper house of the legislature.
The Anglican bishop of Sodor and Man, Peter Eagles, is an ex officio member of this body. However, the bishop previously voted for the final version of Allinson’s abortion legislation, after voting against initial versions.
Some British professional groups have weakened their stance on assisted suicide. In 2019 the Royal College of Physicians and the Royal College of Nursing changed its stance to neutrality on assisted suicide, when the groups had previously opposed it. The British Medical Association and the Royal College of GPs are carrying out surveys on the topic, IOM Today reports.