Legalising assisted dying in one part of the British Isles has moved a step closer after the Isle of Man’s parliament voted a bill through to its next stage.
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.
Following hours of debate on Tuesday, a vote just after 6pm saw 17 Members of the House of Keys (MHK) vote for the bill, and seven against it.
The vote on the private member’s bill, brought by practising GP Dr Alex Allinson who is MHK for the Ramsey area on the island, was hailed as an “historic step” by pro-change campaigners but branded “disappointing” by those opposed.
A further vote is expected to take place next week as to 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.”
He said the bill would apply only to “those who have a clear and settled intention to end their own life”.
He added that assisted dying is “fundamentally different to suicide” saying that 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”.
A 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.
Reacting to the vote, Dr Allinson: “I thank members for having the confidence to vote this through for second reading, however there are many stages we still have to progress. We have to look at all the clauses to make sure that this bill is suitable for the people of the Isle of Man.”
He said the vote “marks 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”.
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 the parliamentarians had “voted yes to dignity”.
Ms Wootton added: “This is 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”.
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, which campaigns against changes to legislation on assisted dying, described the result of the vote as “disappointing”.
Dr Gordon Macdonald, the group’s chief executive, 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.”