Campaigners have hailed a “historic vote” on assisted dying which they said puts the Isle of Man on the path to becoming the first part of the British Isles to see it legalised.
The Assisted Dying Bill, as it stands, applies only to terminally ill adults who have been “ordinarily resident” on the island for at least a year and who are reasonably expected to die within six months.
Practising GP Dr Alex Allinson, who brought the private member’s bill, said Tuesday marked “the start of real change in the Isle of Man to give terminally ill people much-needed choice and protection at the end of life”.
Following hours of debate on Tuesday, 17 Members of the House of Keys (MHK) voted the bill through to its next stage, with seven opposing it.
While pro-change campaigners welcomed the result, the Care Not Killing group said it was disappointed by the vote and urged MHKs on the island to “pull back from this dangerous and ideological policy”.
A further vote is expected to take place next Tuesday on whether the bill should go before a five-member committee to be considered and reported on by the end of February, before moving to the clauses stage.
The bill would then undergo line-by-line scrutiny, where all 14 clauses will be considered by parliamentarians and during which it is expected multiple amendments could be made.
Speaking to the parliament on Tuesday ahead of the vote, Dr Allinson, said: “The principle of this bill is that certain adult island residents who are terminally ill should be able to request specific assistance to decide when and how they might die.”
The MHK for Ramsey said the bill would apply only to “those who have a clear and settled intention to end their own life” and described assisted dying as being “fundamentally different to suicide”.
He said people who request the former “do not want to die” but have instead “arrived at a point where they have an inevitable progressive condition which cannot be reversed and they are reasonably expected to die within six months”.
The debate ahead of the vote heard from opposition voices who said it would bring about a “radical change” on the island, as well as calls from those in support for “robust safeguards” to be put in place.
It was also suggested an increase should be made to the length of time someone must have been living on the island before being eligible under any new legislation.
Dr Allinson said he wanted to “thank members for having the confidence” to vote the bill through, but added that “there are many stages we still have to progress” in order to “make sure that this bill is suitable for the people of the Isle of Man”.
He also said he did not envisage legislation, should the bill eventually receive royal assent, coming in “for at least two years”.
Trevor Moore, chairman of campaign group My Death, My Decision hailed the vote as an “historic step”, while Sarah Wootton, chief executive of Dignity In Dying, said it was a “historic vote, one which puts the Isle of Man on the path to become the first part of the British Isles to legalise assisted dying”.
She described it as a “turning point in the movement for assisted dying” and called on Westminster to “take account of the Isle of Man’s vote, as well as progress towards law change in Jersey and Scotland, and make time for the debate on assisted dying”.
A ministerial working group is working to refine proposals for a change in the law in Jersey, with an aim to lodge proposals for debate by the States Assembly potentially in the early part of next year.
Assisted suicide is currently banned in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, with a maximum prison sentence of 14 years.
The Health and Social Care Committee into assisted dying and assisted suicide in England and Wales is expected to publish a report later this year, after hearing from peers, experts and Swiss organisations including Dignitas during its sessions.
Social care minister Helen Whately, appearing before the committee in July, said debate in this “sensitive area” is one that should be led by MPs at Westminster and that it is an “issue of conscience” for members of Parliament to decide.
In Scotland, it is not a specific criminal offence but assisting the death of someone can leave a person open to murder or other charges.
Scottish Liberal Democrat MSP Liam McArthur’s member’s bill, which seeks to enable mentally competent adults who are terminally ill to be provided with help to end their life if they request it, is expected to be published in Scotland in the coming months.
The Republic of Ireland’s parliament has also been holding committee hearings into the issue of assisted dying to consider and make recommendations for any potential legislative and policy change.
Care Not Killing’s Dr Gordon Macdonald said: “While killing is cheap, providing high quality palliative care and supporting people at the end is not, but this is what we would urge the members of the House of Keys to focus on and pull back from this dangerous and ideological policy.”