Church leaders warn Guernsey could become 'experiment in social change' by legalising assisted dying

Church leaders in Guernsey have said they oppose the introduction of assisted dying ahead of a vote in the island's parliament next month on a bill backed by Guernsey's chief minister.

In an open letter written to islanders, the church leaders say that 'to assist in the death of another is essentially to assist in their suicide' and warn that islanders 'could become an experiment in social change affecting all Islanders with implications well beyond our shores', ITV News reported.

The letter states: 'A "choice" by the State to introduce assisted dying will change our Island and will be seen as a threat by people living with various disabilities, vulnerable people and ultimately, perhaps, by all of us, as we approach the end of our lives or journey with those we love at that final stage.

ReutersOpponents to a bill legalising assisted dying hold placards outside Parliament in Westminster, 2015

'Of the few other jurisdictions that have introduced assisted dying most have, over time seen the initial safeguards eroded and criteria broadened to include other conditions beyond terminally ill people. Current law protects the life of everyone and we are concerned that Guernsey could become an experiment in social change affecting all Islanders with implications well beyond our shores.'

Instead, the church leaders are asking Guernsey's lawmakers to focus on the care of vulnerable people and to increase mental health provision and care for those with dementia.

They added: 'As a community we need to celebrate and support all of life and not actively seek to terminate life'.

Guernsey could become the first place in the British Isles to allow assisted dying under proposals expected to be voted on in next month in its parliament.

The island's chief minister, Gavin St Pier, is backing a bill to allow people to end their lives with the help of a doctor if they are terminally ill, are mentally competent and have less than six months to live.

The move raises the prospect of people from mainland UK who meet the criteria and want to die travelling to the island to take advantage of the law.

If Guernsey's parliament passes the bill, it will reportedly be subject to an 18-month consultation period.

St Pier said last month: 'This is about giving people choice and a sense that they have some control themselves, rather than being frightened, out of control and in the hands of others. That for me is why it is such an important issue.'

He told the Mirror that his father had a distressing death nine years ago from cardiovascular disease. 'It was not a comfortable death and it was also not the death that he would have chosen for himself had he had the choice,' he said.

As a British crown dependency, Guernsey is able to set its own laws, but they have to be approved by the privy council, which is a body of senior politicians at Westminster.

In 2015, MPs in the Westminster House of Commons voted against an assisted dying bill by 330 votes to 118.

Dignity in Dying, which campaigns for a change in the UK law, says that around 44 Britons per year travel to Dignitas, a Swiss euthanasia clinic that offers it services to foreigners.

The Guernsey proposal is based on the 'Oregon model', which is restricted to people with a diagnosed terminal illness and has been adopted in six US states, including Oregon, plus Canada and the Australian state of Victoria. New Zealand is currently considering legislation.

The Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg have more permissive laws, and the Netherlands has recently been engulfed with controversy after a 29-year-old woman, Aurelia Brouwers, who had mental illnesses but was physically fit was permitted euthanasia.