The Irish Parliament should maintain strong laws to protect people in the final days and weeks of their lives, Roman Catholic bishops have said.
In a statement, the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference called on legislators to protect those deemed to be terminally ill from activists’ demands to legalise assisted suicide.
The Oireachtas Joint Committee on Assisted Dying is hearing today from, among others, representatives from pro-assisted suicide groups Dignity in Dying (formerly the Voluntary Euthanasia Society) and Humanists UK.
‘Abdication of responsibility’
Assisted suicide, the bishops argued, is not a “way of respecting the autonomy of a person for whom life has become unbearable”, but the “abdication of the responsibility of society to support people who are terminally ill”.
They warned: “the availability of assisted suicide is very quickly extended to include people with all kinds of life limiting conditions, including intellectual disability, whose continued existence is perceived to be a burden on society”.
The statement concluded: “We appeal, in the strongest possible terms, to all our legislators, who are entrusted with the care of the common good, to respect the integrity of healthcare as a service to life from conception until natural death.”
Speaking to the committee earlier this month, Elma Walsh – whose teenage son benefitted from palliative care until his death from cancer in 2013 – urged it not to recommend a change in Ireland’s life-affirming law.
In light of Donal’s experience of terminal illness, she warned: “For me any introduction of assisted suicide or euthanasia would undermine the trust placed in doctors when it comes to end-of-life care, they would be seen as death givers.”
“I fear what this committee could set in motion, because if it removes the present legal requirement that doctors do what they can to save lives, the value of life will be significantly reduced.”
She added: “All people with long term illness have potential to change and improve the lives of family and friends, as long as they live. That is a message of hope.”