Answering a question from Deputy Montfort Tadier during question time this week, Robert MacRae said that while the UK and Guernsey had changed the law on the matter there were currently no plans for Jersey to follow suit. Instead, he said it was accepted that locally the custom had changed and it was no longer considered an offence to attempt suicide.
Those assisting suicide, however, could still be open to prosecution, he said, with the Attorney General responsible for recommending if such charges would be considered in the public interest.
When pressed on the matter, Mr MacRae said any decision on public interest in such a case would not be open to appeal.
‘A prosecution is more than likely to be in the public interest if the deceased was, for example, under 18 or did not have capacity to reach an informed decision, or had not reached a voluntary, clear and solid decision to commit suicide or if the deceased did not voluntarily seek assistance,’ he said.
Deputy Tadier’s question comes at a time when discussions are being had locally about whether Jersey should consider allowing assisted dying. The majority of candidates who stood in the May election said they would support the introduction of such a law, while an online petition on the new States of Jersey petitioning system calling for individuals of capacity to be allowed their own end-of-life choices currently has more than 1,100 signatures, prompting a response from a minister. If it gains more than 5,000 signatures it will be considered for debate in the States.
The campaign to bring in assisted dying in Jersey is being led by Tanya Tupper, whose mother, Roberta, was diagnosed with stage-four lung cancer just over three years ago and was told that she had six months to live.
In Guernsey earlier this year politicians dropped proposals to approve assisted dying in principle following a public debate over many weeks, which attracted media attention from around the world.
Mr MacRae said that it was important not to confuse the two elements of the discussion, those being the decision of an individual to take their own life and that of someone helping them.
‘A distinction needs to be drawn between criminalising taking one’s own life and assisting another to do so,’ he said.