Should people be allowed to choose to die? Lessons from a Jersey Citizens' Jury

Published on

26 Nov 2021


Last week, Jersey States Assembly passed in principle for assisted dying to be permitted. This was after 78% of a citizens' jury, made up of islanders, ruled it was in favour of changing the law. So, what did we learn from this process? 

The Jersey Assisted Dying Citizens’ Jury was the first time a government asked a representative group of the public to come together to listen, learn and discuss the issue of assisted dying.

The Jersey States Assembly debated the Jury’s recommendations last week and have passed, in principle, that assisted dying should be permitted in Jersey. The final report from the Jury outlines their recommendations, the nuance of their discussions and the sheer breadth and complexity of this question.

Photo credit: Unsplash

This Jury demonstrated how decision-makers can and should open up complex ethical and moral issues that will affect us all such as those relating to death and dying. As one Juror explained in their message to the States Assembly:

Death is a part of life. We are all born, we make our way down life’s many paths and we die.

How we have meaningful and considered conversations about death and dying and what happens as a result is crucial. This post outlines our learning from the Jersey Assisted Dying Jury experience.

Creating space for these conversations

The Government of Jersey asked 23 Jury members to spend almost 25 hours discussing the subject of death and dying. Two of the speakers the Jury heard from during their discussions also died whilst the Jury process was still ongoing.

I volunteered myself into this Jury with no fixed idea of how I would vote in the end. I had an idea of wanting to be pro-choice however I could never have fully imagined the journey that we've been on. This topic is far bigger than a 10-session citizen jury, and I think as an island we need to talk about death…

 A Jury members’ message to the States Assembly.

For some, this is an emotive subject; something to be fearful of and a challenging way to spend so much time. For others, death and dying are viewed in very different ways and seen as a specific point in someone’s life to be celebrated, openly discussed and planned for. 

We used elements of dynamic facilitation to create space for Jury members to explore this subject. 1 They heard from speakers with wide ranging experience and perspectives, and they listened to each other’s views on the question. We asked Jury members to share as much of their personal and emotional response to the information they were hearing to get to a deeper level of discussion and understanding of each others’ perspectives. 

Why was this important? This allowed for Jury members to go at their own pace depending on how comfortable they were discussing an issue like this, especially in an online environment. They could explore where they wanted to go with the subject instead of being constrained to producing specific outputs at key points during the process. 

The Jury had time and space to reflect and consider the myriad of conflicting and complex views on this topic creating a richer understanding of the subject matter and leading to more informed decisions at the end of the process.

Support around these conversations

Given the potentially emotionally challenging subject matter, we worked closely with Mind Jersey throughout the Jury who provided wellbeing and mental health support to all Jury members and the delivery team. Hugo Forrester from Mind delivered “Take 5 Together” exercises at the end of each day offering everyone a moment to decompress; step back and prepare to enter their lives again.

This was particularly difficult online, compared to providing a physical space such as a Quiet Room at an in person workshop. So, we offered multiple access points to support. This included direct contact with Hugo through to ensuring consistency of the “Take 5” sessions which acted as a reminder for us all to check in with ourselves and to process what had just been covered.

Listening to these conversations

The Government of Jersey committed up front to listening to the recommendations from the Jury, and bringing them to the States Assembly for consideration. At Involve, we know how important this is if citizens' time and efforts are to have an impact on decisions.

The Jury voted on its final recommendations after extensive listening; questioning of evidence and deliberating to come to their position. 78% of Jury members voted in favour of assisted dying being permitted in Jersey under specific circumstances. The Jury provided detailed considerations, suggestions, ideas and information that lies behind the headline result of 78% in favour. The Jury design recognised that there were nuances in this final position for different Jury members and opposition from some Jury members to the outcome. The Government of Jersey can now use the richness of these discussions and understanding of differing viewpoints that the Jury has uncovered to create better informed and more effective policy. That is the value of these processes.

Whether people should be able to choose to die or not and, if so, under what circumstances, is an issue that clearly extends beyond Jersey. But now a precedent has been set, we look to the Scottish and UK parliaments and how they are debating and approaching this issue. We hope anyone exploring conversations around this question will look at the depth of perspective and insight the Jersey Assisted Dying Citizens' Jury members shared to reach their conclusions on whether assisted dying should be permitted or not. Our experience in Jersey confirms our view - this issue is too important to be left to politicians alone. 

  • 1Thanks to Martha Cuffy and our brilliant facilitation team for sharing their insight into Dynamic Facilitation with us.