LEICESTER, United Kingdom – A proposal to legalize medically assisted suicide in the Republic of Ireland goes further than other such laws in Europe, pro-life activists are warning.
Gino Kenny, an Irish legislator belonging to the left-wing Solidarity–People Before Profit party, introduced the proposal as a Private Member’s Bill in the Dáil, the lower house of Ireland’s legislature.
Although Kenny’s party has only 5 members in the Dáil, other parties have indicated they could support the proposed law, including Sinn Fein, Labour, and the Green Party.
A similar Private Member’s Bill was submitted to the Dáil in 2015, but failed to pass into law.
A November 2019 Amárach/Claire Byrne Live poll for TheJournal.ie said 63 percent of people in the Republic of Ireland supported the legalization of euthanasia, with just 16 percent opposed, and the remaining 21 percent unsure.
Critics of the bill note that it defines a “terminal illness” as one where “the person is likely to die as a result of that illness or complications relating thereto,” and does not set a time limit for “expected death” – usually 6 months in other countries – before physician-assisted suicide could be requested.
In addition, the bill would require any doctor not willing to assist with a suicide to refer the patient to another doctor. This is especially worrying for the hospice movement, which cares for dying patients near the end of their lives and is philosophically opposed to euthanasia.
Other objections to the proposed legislation include the short 14-day waiting period between a request for lethal medication and its delivery, the lack of a requirement for a second opinion, and the lack of safeguards to protect vulnerable patients.
“The aim of the bill is obviously wrong in principle, but even on its own terms, it is particularly bad,” said David Quinn, the head of the Dublin-based Iona institute for Religion and Society.
“For example, the definition of ‘terminal illness’ is so broad it could include dementia. It does not require that a person be within a set period of death such as six months. Therefore, the person could be in the early stages of a terminal illness with years of life remaining and still ask a doctor for a lethal drug. They only have to make the request once,” he told Crux.
“Furthermore, the protections for conscientious objection are appalling. While a doctor would not have to prescribe a lethal drug, they would have to refer a patient to someone who will. This will put palliative care doctors in particular into a terrible position,” Quinn added.
Private Member’s Bills usually do not go on to become law without the support of the government, which has remained silent on the issue until now.
Ireland is currently ruled by a coalition of the two traditional main parties, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, along with the Green Party.
However, Quinn says the proposal has chance, given its support from other parties.
“Worryingly, the Labour party here has indicated support for the bill and Sinn Fein, which is now the main opposition party, is open to it. So are Green party [members of the Dáil.] The Green party is now in Government,” he explained.
“There is little opposition being heard from the two main governing parties, Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil. There needs to be concerted opposition from palliative care doctors and geriatricians to stop some version of this law going through in the months ahead. Fortunately, such doctors are starting to make their voices heard,” he said.
One of those was Dr. Anthony O’Brien, Clinical Professor of Palliative Medicine at University College Cork.
In a letter published in the Irish Times on Sep. 15, he said he had met “very many patients who in desperation asked to have their life ended, believing that they had no other option.”
“With good palliative care, the overwhelming majority had occasion to change their minds. With suicide, there is no going back. Surely a compassionate society can be more creative in its response to human suffering than premature, self-inflicted death,” O’Brien wrote.
Peadar Tóibín, the leader of the pro-life Aontú party, warned that in countries that have introduced physician-assisted suicide or euthanasia, “pressure starts to grow on older people and people with severe disabilities.”
“So much so that countries such as Canada, Netherlands and Belgium have seen the number avail of assisted suicide radically increase,” he said in a statement.
“These countries initially introduced assisted suicide for a small number of really difficult cases but have now seen the numbers increase nine and ten-fold. Requests for euthanasia are extremely rare before it’s made legal but radically increase when the culture changes,” Tóibín continued.
He also said the bill could “radically change” the direction of the medical profession from saving of life to ending it.
“We urge the government to assist people with living. To invest the necessary resources to ensure that people who are faced with difficult death have all the supports that they need to make for final journey as comfortable and pain free as humanly possible. We need to improve our palliative care and our health service but euthanasia is not the solution to the failings in our health system,” he said.
Once one of the most Catholic nations in Europe, revelations about clerical sexual abuse has left public confidence in the Church at its lowest level in the history of Ireland.
Not only has Mass attendance dropped significantly over the past quarter century, the Irish people have increasingly rejected laws seen as rooted in Catholic teaching.
In 2015, the country held a referendum on same-sex marriage in which 62 percent of the voters backed changing the constitution to allow the practice. An even larger number – over 66 percent – voted to change the constitution to allow legal abortion in 2018.
Follow Charles Collins on Twitter: @CharlesinRome