The Memo: Isle of Man: The Assisted Dying Bill 2023

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Isle of Man: The Assisted Dying Bill 2023

Erin Bradbury – 20 November 2023

After several similar legislative attempts going back as far as 2003, the ‘Assisted Dying Bill 2023’ could see the Isle of Man become the first crown dependency in Britain and Ireland to legalise assisted dying. Under this proposal, terminally ill adults (expected to pass within six months) that are deemed mentally competent having lived on the Isle of Man for a minimum of 12 months will be able to request access to assisted dying. As of the 7th of November, the Second Reading passed in the House of Keys 17 votes to 7. So, it is now expected that five committee members will consider the clauses and report back in February 2024.

Without a doubt a highly emotive debate, this bill has been described as a question of “compassion, choice, and autonomy” by Alex Allinson MHK, a physician and politician who brought the bill forward. Whilst a recent survey by the Isle of Man Medical Society has revealed that 74% of doctors are not in favor of a change in the law, citing various reasons ranging from concerns over misdiagnosis, to coercion and safeguarding. Under the proposed bill, two registered medical practitioners (independent of each other) will determine whether the person's decision is clear, and that they have been informed of other options such as palliative care. Significantly, terminal patients would be able to access assisted dying without involvement from the courts. Of the Medical Society survey, it was found that roughly 55% would prefer a system operated with a court authorized requirement in place.

With much conversation surrounding the Isle of Man proposal, Guardian polling from August has found that 65% of people in the UK are in favour of competent adults with less than six months to live to being able to voluntarily end their lives with high court confirmation. In 2021, the Assisted Dying Bill was brought to the UK Parliament’s attention by Baroness Meacher, which intended to legalise assisted dying for competent terminally ill adults, subject to approval by two independent doctors and a High Court judge. Such bill made progress to the Committee Stage, but ran out of time when the new session began in 2022. As of now, organizations such as Dignity in Dying are requesting that the next Parliament put such a bill to debate and a vote by calling on parties to “Make Time for Assisted Dying” in their manifestos.

So, what’s the current state of play? Well, under English law assisted suicide and euthanasia remains illegal. Under the Suicide Act 1961 assisted suicide is punishable by up to 14 years imprisonment. Whilst euthanasia, subject to circumstance, can be categorized as either manslaughter or murder, with the current maximum penalty being life imprisonment. In England and Wales, between 2009 – 2022, 174 cases recorded as assisted suicide have been reported, of which 26 were withdrawn or not proceeded with.

In relation to the Isle of Man bill, should it progress, it is projected to reach Royal Assent by next year and would potentially be available from 2025. It is estimated that should this bill be enacted, somewhere between 2 and 40 people would use the law annually.