Jersey votes to let terminally ill end their lives

Andrew Gregory writes in the Sunday Times:

Jersey is set to become the first part of the British Isles to legalise assisted dying after a citizens’ jury voted overwhelmingly in favour of changing the law.

There is growing evidence that elected politicians are enthusiastic to outsource controversial decisions to randomly selected citizens juries. Here’s the the article (by the Sunday Times’ Health Editor).

A panel of islanders said last week it was in favour of ending the ban on assisted dying after an independent inquiry heard months of expert evidence and personal testimony. The Sunday Times, backed by politicians from all parties, some senior doctors and religious leaders, is campaigning to legalise assisted dying across the UK.

Last week 78 per cent of the citizens’ jury — 18 of the 23 islanders who had been selected at random — said assisted dying should be legal. The jury called for terminally ill islanders to be able to seek help to end their life, subject to safeguards. Eight in ten Britons support having a right to assisted dying, polls suggest.

As a crown dependency, Jersey can legislate on assisted dying independently of Britain. The jury’s recommendations will be followed by a full report in September. Jersey’s Council of Ministers will then lodge a proposition asking the States Assembly, the island’s parliament, to agree that assisted dying be legalised.

“The people of Jersey have declared loud and clear that they want choice and control over their deaths alongside high-quality palliative care,” said Sarah Wootton, chief executive of campaign group Dignity in Dying.

private member’s bill to legalise assisted dying in England and Wales had its first reading in the Lords last month. The proposed law would apply to mentally competent adults in the last six months of a terminal illness, with two doctors and a judge assessing each request. A similar bill was launched in Scotland last week.

Paul Gazzard, whose husband Alain du Chemin died of brain cancer last month, welcomed Jersey’s move. Du Chemin gave evidence to the citizens’ jury and wrote an open letter to the States Assembly. He was planning an assisted death in Switzerland but his health deteriorated and he died in Jersey in a local hospice.

This undermines a recent claim by Oliver Milne that “the only way sortitional democracy is likely to be instituted is through social conflict and crisis – the sort of crisis that produces a constitutional moment in which sortitional institutions can be set up . . . we’re in the business of stripping power from its present holders! We can’t expect their cooperation in that enterprise.”

11 Responses

  1. “The jury’s recommendations will be followed by a full report in September. Jersey’s Council of Ministers will then lodge a proposition asking the States Assembly, the island’s parliament, to agree that assisted dying be legalised.”

    This undermines your claim that this undermines my claim! The Jersey citizens’ assembly was purely advisory, leaving the power of the States Assembly untouched. That isn’t to say that it’s not a step forward – one more brick in the edifice of citizens’ assemblies’ legitimacy – but this is not sortitional democracy, any more than an advisory elected body makes a monarchy an electoral democracy.

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  2. Oliver,

    My concern isn’t constitutional formalities, it’s the attitude of politicians to sortition initiatives. My claim is that, when dealing with controversial issues, elected politicians will greet sortition bodies with open arms. This is because in single-member plurality systems it’s much easier to lose general voter support over single issues that are orthogonal to the party’s core policies. I would hazard a guess that if 8 out of 10 Britons support assisted dying, that the ratio would be similar in the political class, but politicians are frightened of controversial issues that could lose them general voter support. The Jersey CJ is a wonderful example of the (Polybian) mixed constitution, when all parties (politicians, ministers, deliberative assemblies) are all working together towards a common goal, unlike the (Montesquian) division of powers which often leads to stalemate, swings and/or unsustainable compromises. But what I’m really opposed to is the view that the political class and “the masses” have incompatible interests and that sortition can only be instituted when the latter force it on the former. This sub-Marxist dogma is well past its sell-by date.

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  3. Keith,

    Your world of virtuous politicians acting in the public interest must be a wonderful place to live!

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Virtue is not a prerequisite for acting in the public interest (institutional design works much better). And incremental improvement has a much better track record than blowing it all up and starting from ground zero.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. That seems very obviously a matter of correlation rather than causation. Incremental improvement takes place in conditions where incremental improvement is possible. Revolutions happen where it is not – not because some vanguard of zealots want a revolution to happen (they always do, usually in vain), but because the situation has become untenable enough for ordinary, non-politicised people that they are willing to take the massive associated risk and put their weight behind that kind of change. If we could achieve sortitional democracy through consensual, incremental change, I would be all for that. History teaches us that we can’t.

    This isn’t to say that there’s a strict dichotomy of incrementalism vs. revolution, where the latter achieves things and the former doesn’t. But what is possible through the former is dependent on the danger posed to existing holders of power by the latter. Take the introduction of universal male suffrage in Britain after World War 1, which is quite comparable to the introduction of sortitional democracy. Why did Parliament make that concession at that point in time? Because they were afraid of what all those millions of working-class men with combat experience would do if they didn’t. They saw the Russian Revolution and were, very reasonably, anxious to avoid one of their own. They wisely saw the crisis coming and pre-empted it, but that doesn’t mean their hand was any the less forced.

    As for institutional design, the fact that we are having this discussion here indicates that we both recognise the flaws in the design of our present institutions. I fully agree with you that institutional design can greatly lessen the load to be borne by virtue. I simply have a more realistic (you might say more jaded) view of the incentives produced by present Western institutions.

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  6. Oliver:> If we could achieve sortitional democracy through consensual, incremental change, I would be all for that.

    Then you should welcome this development in Jersey.

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  7. I do! But I also recognise the limitations reality imposes on this kind of progress.

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  8. We’ll have to reserve judgment on that, but I agree with Terry that the best way to implement sortition is to show that it works in one domain and then let it develop organically. Terry’s model here is Bagehot’s The English Constitution, an interesting read.

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  9. I shall have to add it to my reading list!

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  10. Oliver,

    The fact that citizen juries are usually merely advisory is just the finishing touch on an arrangement in which the allotted are subordinated to the elected. The main way in which the elected exert their power over those bodies is by setting their agenda and purview. The allotted bodies are a-priori limited to discuss only those issues which the elected feel comfortable with giving the allotted a say (even if only a non-binding say).

    Liked by 2 people

  11. Yoram:> The main way in which the elected exert their power over those bodies is by setting their agenda and purview.

    Absolutely — it’s hard to imagine any other way for the demos to set the agenda in a large multicultural state. Alex’s Superminority Principle enables the proposals arising from the elected house to better match the diversity of the demos, but an agenda set by a tiny group of randomly-selected volunteers would be entirely random, thereby contravening Dahl’s requirement that the demos should have exclusive control of both the agenda and the final decision. Given your statistical expertise, I’m puzzled as to why I keep having to point out that the random speech acts of a tiny group of volunteers is far below the LLN threshold for accurate statistical sampling. The agenda arising from different small groups is likely to be different, thereby failing to accurately reflect the beliefs and interests of the demos.

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