LEICESTER, United Kingdom – Ireland’s bishops say that a bill to legalize assisted suicide in the country is “fundamentally flawed,” and are calling on Catholics to ask their elected representatives to “reject it entirely.”
Gino Kenny, an Irish legislator belonging to the left-wing Solidarity–People Before Profit party, introduced the Dying With Dignity Bill last year as a Private Member’s Bill in the Dáil, the lower house of the Republic 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.
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.
A similar Private Member’s Bill was submitted to the Dáil in 2015, but failed to pass into law.
In a statement released on March 11, Ireland’s bishops said the proposed legislation “is fundamentally flawed” and “cannot be repaired or improved.”
“We are very aware that, sadly, all across Ireland, many families are engaged day by day in accompanying loved ones through terminal illness,” the bishops said.
The prelates said the proposal “wrongly proposes the deliberate ending of life as a way of conferring dignity on people with terminal illness. The opposite is the case.”
“Indeed, in our experience, the inherent dignity of the person often shines through under those difficult circumstances,” the bishops explained.
“Under existing law and current best practice, people with terminal illness are supported by family members, by doctors and nurses and palliative care teams, in living life to the full until death comes naturally. We take this opportunity to thank the many healthcare professionals who so generously devote their lives to the care of people with terminal illness,” the statement added.
“Once it is accepted in principle, that one person may participate actively in ending the life of another, there is no longer any logical basis for refusing this same option to any person who feels that life is no longer worth living. We are aware that, in countries where it is legally permitted for healthcare professionals to be directly involved in the taking of human life, it has very quickly been extended to include people who are not terminally ill (the elderly, people with intellectual disability, young adults on the autistic spectrum and even minors who, in other circumstances, would not be considered capable of giving legal consent),” the prelates said.
The bishops also said the requirement that medical professionals be required to make referrals for assisted suicide, even if they conscientiously object, is “unacceptable.”
“This means that, one way or another, healthcare professionals are required to involve themselves in something which they believe to be contrary to morality and to medical best practice,” the statement said.
“This Bill, if passed, would be a sad reflection of the unwillingness of society to accompany people with terminal illness. It would reflect a failure of compassion,” the bishops 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