LEICESTER, United Kingdom – Irish bishops say they “totally reject” a parliamentary committee report advocating the legalization of assisted suicide in the Republic of Ireland.

The Irish parliament Committee on Assisted Dying issued a report on March 20 calling for legalization of assisted suicide at the request of people with a condition that would generally lead to death in 6 months.

Although suicide is currently legal in Ireland, assisting someone in suicide is against the law.

On June 24, the Irish Bishops’ Conference issued a

statement on end of life care called “Freedom to Live Fully, Until Death Comes” which opposes assisted suicide.

The bishops say palliative and pastoral care can focus on the needs of the whole person when they approach death.

“As pastors, we are well aware of the impact that critical or terminal illness has, not only on the person who is ill, but also on his or her family and friends,” the bishops say.  “We believe that every person who is seriously ill, together with all those who are concerned with his or her care, however difficult the circumstances, is held in the unconditional love of God.”

The bishops say they wish to invite people to consider once again some of the essential elements of the Church’s teaching on care at the end of life.

“It is argued by some that the provision of ‘assisted suicide’ is simply about respecting the autonomy of the individual over his or her own life. Once life is taken away, however, autonomy is also taken away,” the statement says.

“The Church does not and never has insisted on the use of extraordinary means to prolong life. Nor is there any moral obligation on a sick person to accept treatment which they feel is unduly burdensome,” the bishops continue.

“A decision to end life prematurely, however, cuts off any prospect of growth or healing and represents a failure of hope. It is surely far better when a person’s freedom to live is affirmed and supported by a compassionate community of care,” they explain.

“Even leaving aside the vision of faith, individual autonomy is not absolute, and consideration must be given to the impact of legislation on the common good, as well as on the individual. By legislating for assisted suicide or euthanasia, the State would contribute to undermining the confidence of people who are terminally ill, who want to be cared for and want to live life as fully as possible until death naturally comes,” the bishops add.

The statement says people who are dying are entitled to be accompanied in a “holistic way,” and the bishops say they believe that palliative care services need to be more widely available, in hospitals and hospices and in the community.

The bishops write they reject the proposed legislation that would facilitate assisted suicide or euthanasia, saying whatever the circumstances, the deliberate taking of human life, “especially by those whose vocation is to care for it, undermines a fundamental principle of civilized society, namely that no person can lawfully take the life of another.”

The bishops also say they have “little confidence” in the proposed “restrictions” regarding who might have access to assisted suicide and under what circumstances, noting such safeguards made in other jurisdiction have been overturned, which “is already happening in Ireland with regard to the law on abortion.”

The bishops say they believe that “it would be only a matter of time” before proposals would be on the table to extend the availability of assisted suicide to society’s most vulnerable, including people with intellectual disabilities.

Palliative care and hospice specialists argue that legalizing assisted suicide has greatly impacted their work.

British Dr. Claud Regnard told ehospice that in Canada, less than half of patients who participate in assisted suicide or euthanasia see a specialist palliative care team, and only 15 percent of Canadians have access to publicly funded palliative care at home. He also noted two thirds of all dying individuals in Belgium do not access specialist palliative care, and in Australia 59 percent of dying intensive care patients are not referred to such end-of-life care services.

He also said people should also question claims that legalizing assisted death is compatible with palliative care and does not impede its development.

“In Canada, funding to several hospices has been withdrawn because they refused to participate in assisted deaths. In Oregon in 2012, two thirds of hospice programs did not take part in assisted deaths. A tension is developing between hospices providing death and those caring for the dying,” Regnard writes.

In their document, the Irish bishops say doctors and nurses are obliged to seek the truth and to be faithful to it in the way they care for their patients, and when healthcare professionals are put under pressure to participate, either directly or by referral, in an act that they themselves believe to be fundamentally immoral, “we treat them as mindless functionaries.”

“This does untold damage to the integrity of healthcare in Ireland and removes the human as its primary focus. In our culture, we rightly hold doctors and nurses in high esteem because they are presumed always to be at the service of life, for as long as their patient lives,” the document says.

“We call on Catholics to stand firmly in support of nurses and doctors who stand for life. One day it may be your life,” the bishops add.

Follow Charles Collins on X: @CharlesinRome