LEICESTER, United Kingdom – Proposed legislation to introduce medically-assisted dying to the Republic of Ireland is “disingenuous and unnecessary,” according to Bishop William Crean of Cloyne.

Speaking during the Day for Life Mass on Oct. 4, Crean said, “how we treat the weak and powerless is the true test of our character and integrity as a nation.”

The Irish parliament was scheduled to vote on whether the “Dying with Dignity” Bill will proceed to committee stage on Wednesday. The bill was introduced into the legislative body last month.

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.

During his homily, Crean said noted that those proposing the law claim it would be “limited and rare in occurrence,” but pointed to the results of legalized abortion in the country.

“We know only too well these days how fragile life is.  It is not too long ago since the right to life of the unborn was compromised. The argumentation was that abortion would be limited and rare.  That the first year of the legislation registered 6666 [abortions]. That is not what was promised.  Would you believe again in the promises of those politicians?  I do not,” the bishop said.

He noted that in life’s journey there are many who fall victim to a terminal illness, adding this “generates great sadness, anxiety, anger and pain.”

He also questioned the appropriateness of introducing the legislation during the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

“If the frail and elderly were fearful and anxious due to the virus, they have an added legitimate concern as to how much value is really placed on their life and their lifetime’s contribution to society,” Crean said.

On Monday, the Irish Palliative Medicine Consultants’ Association (IPMCA) published an open letter in the Irish Times, registering their opposition to the Bill.

“The threats of the proposed Bill to healthcare in Ireland, to the true meaning of the doctor-patient relationship and to the future of what we know compassionate and supportive specialist palliative care to be are many,” the letter says.

“We worry about the impact on people who already struggle to have their voices heard in our society – older adults, the disabled, those with mental illness and others. We worry that the most vulnerable are those who may be made to feel a burden to their families and come under pressure to end their lives prematurely,” it continues.

“Most people do not see that within the easing of physical, psychological or spiritual distress and addressing people’s fears, hopes, sadness and loss, the goal of palliative care remains to enhance the living of each life which often transforms the experiences of living, dying and bereavement for individual patients and their families. We are convinced that as dying with dignity is already present within healthcare in Ireland, no change to our current laws is required.”

Follow Charles Collins on Twitter: @CharlesinRome