The Irish Parliament’s Justice Committee has refused to progress a Bill attempting to legalise euthanasia and assisted suicide until there is further parliamentary scrutiny.
Following detailed analysis of submissions in a public consultation to the Dying with Dignity Bill, Senators have now recommended a special parliamentary committee be set up to examine the whole area of assisted suicide.
Had the Bill passed, residents in Northern Ireland would have been able to travel to the Republic to be killed.
Threat to vulnerable
The public consultation, launched in November, received over 1,400 responses.
According to the Justice Committee report: “A point that was repeated frequently throughout submissions in all categories was concern that this Bill could result in abuse of the sick and vulnerable, who may perceive themselves to be a burden on their family and feel pressured into opting for assisted dying.”
The committee noted: “In some submissions, elderly people expressed their personal dismay, as they felt that after working hard all of their lives, the prospect of this Bill being passed made them feel as if society was demonstrating that they were of little value.”
A number of respondents believed the Bill, if enacted, would “normalise suicide”, whereas others said the category “terminally ill” was too broadly defined and could “include people with disabilities”.
‘Cost effective’ killing
Significantly, the majority of medical submissions were opposed to the Bill.
Individual medics feared the legislation would open up the way for “policy creep”, with any remaining protections further eroded over time and the criteria for assisted suicide broadened, as has been seen in countries such as Canada and Belgium.
Respondents also highlighted the harm such legislation could cause to the “patient-doctor relationship”, arguing that the deliberate ending of a patient’s life would “breach the fundamental principle of ‘do no harm’.”
Medical stakeholders believed the Bill would undermine the work of palliative care organisations and were concerned that assisted suicide “could be seen as a more ‘cost-effective’ approach to addressing the needs of those facing end-of-life illnesses”.
Campaign group Hope Ireland welcomed the news: “Politicians should take note of the significant opposition this bill has generated from a diverse cohort of Irish society – patients, older people, people with disabilities, mental health experts, and medical professionals.”
“The Government should be assisting people to live, not assisting them to die.”
In February, over 2,500 doctors, nurses and geriatricians signed an open letter calling on the Irish Parliament to reject the Dying with Dignity Bill, stating they were “gravely concerned” at the proposal.
The previous attempt to end of life protections in the Republic failed to pass through the Dáil in 2015-16.
End-of-life protections are also under attack in both Westminster and Holyrood.
Earlier this year, Baroness Meacher’s Private Members’ Bill, seeking to legalise assisted suicide in England and Wales, was introduced in the House of Lords.
In Scotland, Liam McArthur MSP launched a similar Bill in June, which proposes removing legal protections for vulnerable patients who are terminally ill.
A consultation on McArthur’s Bill will take place in the autumn, with a vote anticipated in the Scottish Parliament next year.