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.

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My Turn: On citizens’ assemblies

Dennis Merritt, a resident of Shelburne Falls, writes in the Greenfield Reporter (keeping Franklin County informed since 1792!):

Judith Truesdell’s letter on immigration reform [“Illegal immigration”, April 24] made me think more about a friend of mine’s opinions on citizens’ assemblies, a form of sortition.

What’s sortition? It turns out the Athenian Greek democracy did not elect representatives. Instead they were chosen at random from the population. That’s sortition.

For some, the very fact that we elect our representatives is at the core of the problems with our government today. They argue that if Congress were made up of randomly selected individuals, who are demographically representative of the country, rotating through fixed terms, then a lot more would get done, and get done better.

Why? Because the representatives would focus on the issues, not the visibility of the issue and how it affects their fundraising and chances for re-election.

That’s clearly not going to happen any time soon, but there is a variation on the idea that is happening in places and could happen on a national level. It’s called citizens’ assemblies.

A citizens’ assembly is a group of randomly selected, demographically representative individuals brought together to address one particular issue, hopefully to make law, but at least to make recommendations. These could be relatively large groups. They would take input from various stake holders and experts. After making their decision, they would disband.
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Democracy Should Just Work

In my new post, I argue that parliamentary procedures can be eliminated with the adoption of the superminority method. The advantages of this are enormous, since legislatures are widely ridiculed for the way rules can be manipulated to advantage. Instead, the superminority rule reinforces two main principles:

  1. Procedural inevitability – Agenda items are guaranteed to reach a conclusion.
  2. Substantive uncertainty – The outcome of all agenda items is genuinely unknown when proposals are written.

Once these principles are followed, legislative politics becomes painless to the general public. Democracy just works.

Facebook has created an oversight board that includes the former prime minister of Denmark — but how independent is it really?

Matthew Syed’s Sunday Times article led me to think this was a good case for appointment by random selection.

Facebook has long been one of the most powerful actors in the world. It can shut down the communication of presidents, censor information on a network that connects 2.8 billion monthly users, and spread fake news — inadvertently or otherwise — using algorithms that can shift the dynamics of democratic elections. But who controls Facebook?

This is a question that came into sharp focus last month when Donald Trump was shunted off the platform at much the same time that he was dropped from Twitter and YouTube. The companies cited violations of their terms of use and claimed that, as private institutions, they were not bound by First Amendment free speech obligations. Conservatives responded that it was intolerable that judgments on who could access the digital equivalent of the town square were determined by the woke sensibilities of a tiny group of West Coast billionaires.

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Police Oversight Commissions by Chosen by Lot?

Two city councils in California (Culver City, Petaluma) have people on them interested in reforming their police oversight commissions to include members selected by lot. Talks are exploratory at this point, but our group of California democratic lottery activists (Random Access Democracy, or RAD) is advocating with City Council members. We could be more effective if I could hear from anyone in the Equality by Lot readership who has any experience or information that would help us make the case. Right now I do not know of any examples of police oversight commissions chosen by lot. Are there any? Can anyone direct me to any references about them? At this point I know of two apposite resources:

  1. Community Control of Police: A Proposition
  2. Shaunsky Colvich of Democracy Without Elections recently mentioned that Lincoln Steffens, in his book, The Shame of the Cities (1904), described how “a grand jury effectively fought police corruption in Minneapolis. Back then grand juries (selected by lot) had far more power and weren’t as limited in scope or discovery as modern grand juries are, which are usually just rubber stamps for prosecutors . . . never calling their own witnesses or being allowed to do their own research anymore.”

Start with the State

In a new post, I argue that traditional political philosophy has been too concerned with building notions of justice and government from the individual up, and not focused enough on accepting the state as a fact and working down from there. While starting with the individual and trying to re-imagine the state has an intuitive appeal, it actually causes political philosophers to avoid applying real controls over the state in all of its contingent glory. Because of this, starting with the state as the first premise actually increases the protection afforded to individuals, by more carefully avoiding things that can go wrong with state intrusion into those freedoms.

Some Problems of Citizens’ Assemblies

Academia.edu have recently launched Academia Letters, a peer-reviewed journal consisting of short articles that are distributed to a wide audience, and Alex Kovner and I were invited to contribute to the first edition. The Academia Letters article is here (along with the reviewers’ comments). It was edited down rather severely, the advantage being that, according to the analytics, most people who received the notification actually read it, the intention being to introduce new work to a broader audience than the usual recipients. A fuller version is available on Alex’s blog: Part 1 and Part 2. We’re currently working on a new Superminority article to directly address the problem at the heart of the US and other deeply polarized political systems — where half the electorate are effectively disenfranchised — that led to the attack on Capitol Hill.

The Blind Break is the Heart of Democracy

In part 4 of my legislative series, I propose a new definition of democracy, one that revolves around the blind break. The blind break is, of course, an information control mechanism, and has not usually been treated as so essential to the political project. While concepts like representation and delegation have historically been treated as essential to political theory, information flow has been treated as secondary.

In this post, I aim to correct this mistake. Political systems are information flows at their very core. We must treat constraints on those flows as central to the entire political project, right up there with separation of powers, equality under the law, and other traditional notions of political theory.

Executive Harmony

In the third post in my executive series, I explore how a pluralistic executive deals with conflict among independent office holders. While this apparatus might seem like a waste of resources, what is the cost of authoritarianism? I think it is much better to ask the question: Can’t a pluralistic executive just get along with itself?

The Jury of the Whole

In my latest post on the legislative branch, I look at what happens after a set of concrete proposals are made and published. This is the most transformative aspect of the proposal-jury model. It engages every aspect of a polity, from intellectual and business elites, to the news media, to ordinary citizens. And it is the closest that any large, modern society can come to experiencing direct democracy.