Pro-life advocates warn that Isle of Man euthanasia legislation could increase “suicide tourism”
The Irish Sea island would be the first part of the British Isles to legalize assisted suicide and euthanasia
The United Kingdom has not yet legalized euthanasia, but a self-governing territory between England and Ireland could break this trend. On Oct. 31, the Isle of Man’s House of Keys, the elected body representing islanders, voted to advance a proposed euthanasia bill with 17 members in favor and seven members against during the second reading. Earlier this month, lawmakers voted to form a committee to study the bill and report back at the end of February.
The Isle of Man is a small, independently governed British territory—called a British Crown Dependency—with a population of 84,000. It operates with a high degree of autonomy, having its own government and legal system. Despite this independence, pro-life groups in the area fear the shift on the island could have a broader effect on the U.K.
Alex Allinson, a physician and an independent member of the House of Keys, proposed the bill. “Today marks the start of real change in the Isle of Man to give terminally ill people much-needed choice and protection at the end of life,” he said in a statement.
During debates on the bill, Alfred Cannan, who as chief minister is the head of the Isle of Man government, expressed his opposition to the legislation. He noted the slippery slope of the expansion of euthanasia in Canada, which is set to include euthanasia for those suffering from mental illness.
“We will now have the potential to become experts in playing God with other people’s lives,” Cannan said.
Before voting on the assisted dying bill, the House of Keys, one of two chambers in the island’s parliament, held a public consultation during December 2022 and January 2023. Survey results found that Isle of Man residents were split on the issue, with 49.61 percent of respondents were against the implementation of assisted suicide in the Isle of Man and 49.01 percent in support.
Now that the bill has passed through its second reading, a committee of five members from the House of Keys will analyze its language and make amendments. The bill comprises 14 clauses, and the committee is expected to report back to the House of Keys by the end of February. The legislation will still go through further stages until passed. There will be a third reading in the House of Keys before heading to the Legislative Council. If the bill receives royal assent next year, the House of Keys will consider how the legislation will be implemented to likely be available in 2025.
Some of the clauses put restrictions on who is eligible. This includes those who are over the age of 18, terminally ill and “reasonably expected” to die within six months, and legally capable of making the decision. Should the legislation be approved, euthanasia in the Isle of Man will only be permitted for individuals who have been residents for at least a year and are expected to pass away within six months.
David Greatorex is the head of research at the Christian Institute, a U.K.-based charity that works to promote Christian values in secular contexts.
“That’s one of the things that will be discussed, whether a year is the appropriate duration of that residency requirement,” he said. “Obviously, there will be those that would push for it to be shorter, but others will push for it to be longer.”
“Euthanasia tourism” involves individuals traveling to other countries for assisted dying procedures—Switzerland is a common destination as it has no residency restrictions for eligibility. If the Isle of Man enforces its residency requirements, stipulating a minimum of one year, it could discourage nonresidents from seeking assisted dying services in the region.
But Catherine Robinson, a spokeswoman for Right to Life U.K., fears the country could later loosen this legislation to allow for “suicide tourism” for residents of the United Kingdom. She notes that when Oregon in the United States legalized assisted suicide, the state program originally restricted nonresidents from being eligible, but it has since loosened the law to allow nonresidents to apply.
“If this bill passed, there would be pressure for a similar loosening of the law in the Isle of Man, especially given assisted suicide and euthanasia are not available in England, Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland,” she said.
Sarah Wootton, chief executive of the pro-euthanasia group Dignity in Dying, called this legislation a “turning point,” and said she hopes it will bring about “law change” in nearby areas. In Scotland and the nearby island of Jersey, lawmakers have also been working on bills that would legalize euthanasia. A parliamentary committee in Ireland is pondering legalization. The U.K. Parliament’s Health and Social Care Select Committee is expected to submit a report by the end of the year to the House of Commons on its recently completed inquiry about euthanasia.
Greatorex says that in times like these, Christians need to be vocal in speaking out on human dignity.
“All people are made in the image of God, and we believe that life is therefore precious and inherent in value because of that. The reasons that are often given to justify euthanasia or assisted suicide are often tied to individual dignity or autonomy,” he said. “As believers, we look beyond those things to the reality of God’s creation of us and the value that he puts on human life and human life should be defended.”