Dail debates Dying with Dignity Bill
The Dail debated the Dying with Dignity Bill 2020 this week. Gino Kenny TD of Solidarity – People Before Profit proposed it as a private members bill. It would only allow for assisted dying in cases where a person is of sound mind and is suffering from a terminal illness.
Minister for Justice Helen McEntee proposed a Government amendment to delay the Bill for a year so that an Oireachtas Committee can examine the issue in more detail. The question will be voted on next Wednesday 7 October.
Atheist Ireland supports the right to assisted dying for terminally ill rational people.
Those who want to live as long as they can should get the best possible medical resources to enable them to do this. Those who want to die peacefully at a time of their choosing should be supported in carrying out this wish. Those who are disabled should be assisted by their medical team to carry out their wishes.
In a recent article, Atheist Ireland’s Martin O’Reilly argued that assisted dying is a moral good. Linking to relevant sources, he examined religious objections, passive and active assisted dying, safeguards against pressure, the slippery slope argument, whether palliative care is enough, and the increased quality of life that assisted dying enables.
Here are some relevant extracts from this week’s Dail Debate.
Gino Kenny TD, Solidarity – People Before Profit:
“This is quite a complex debate. It is a very profound debate about mortality, our lives, futures and friends and the people we love. These are very difficult circumstances. For 16 years of my life, I have been a carer. I have cared for people in very difficult circumstances coming to the end of their lives. This is not about ending life. This is about living. People are in situations in which they do not want to die by any means. They want to live. I take exception to conflating this with suicide. People with a terminal illness are not suicidal. They want to live every second, minute and hour of every day and week to see their family and enjoy life. Sometimes, however, life is extremely cruel and a terminal illness chooses a person. No one chooses it. This will be an ongoing debate and these are the issues that will be teased out over time.”
Richard Boyd Barrett TD, Solidarity – People Before Profit:
“I do not understand why anybody would want to deny people whose choice to live is taken away from them by illness, which illness is certain to end their life, the right to choose the terms on which that should happen in order to minimise the pain and suffering, physical and spiritual, that they undergo in those circumstances. I do not see why anyone would do that. In some cases – it is not an exaggeration to say this – to deny them that right is to torture them. It is literally putting them through excruciating, unbearable suffering and hardship against their will. That is a form of torture in an already difficult situation. Why would we want to do that to somebody? What right has anybody to deny a person the right to decide the terms on which his or her life should end when his or her life is certain to end?”
Mick Barry TD, Solidarity – People Before Profit:
“I want to speak about the people who are facing into an undignified death without control of their bodies or bodily functions and who make the choice to leave this world in a different way, namely, voluntary assisted death. If I had a terminal illness, getting progressively worse, and I was facing an undignified death would I want a choice in that situation? Yes, I would want to be able to say that if I am leaving this world, I am doing so on my terms and not on the terms dictated to me by an illness that is outside of my control. I also would want to make sure that the loved one or friend I reached out to and asked to help me in that situation would not face legal consequences, which is currently the position here.”
Helen McEntee. Minister for Justice:
“The Oireachtas justice and equality committee of the previous Dáil examined the issue of assisted dying, but I understand it did not go into the detail that we would like. While it did not come to a conclusion on whether legislative change is required, it raised a number of questions which need to be answered if change is to be considered. I hope that the new special Oireachtas committee, if approved, will take up these questions. The new committee would report back to this House within 12 months with recommendations. The subject of assisted dying is complex and cannot be rushed. A special Oireachtas committee is best placed to ensure that there is full consideration of the issues which arise in this Bill. That is why I ask Deputies to support the countermotion I am proposing. It will also give all Members, as well as the general public, the time to consider the fundamental questions and detail of what is being proposed.”
Alan Farrell TD, Fine Gael:
“Something as profound as this should not be rushed. It will require all of us to listen carefully to experts, who we will not have access to in the same way as we will with an all-party committee holding hearings such as those that took place in the past. Perhaps some will change their views, in either direction, but perhaps a majority of members will decide that this is something they will support and the Bill may progress further. There is no reason that it will take the full 12 months for the committee to be established and report, albeit there are difficulties with meeting for more than two hours and so forth. I am sure there are ways such a committee can be constructed to expedite its element of the work.”
David Cullinane TD, Sinn Fein:
“The Bill provides for assisted dying in the event of terminal illness only. Assisted dying would only be permitted after assessment by the attending medical practitioner and an independent medical practitioner. Before countersigning a patient’s declaration, they must verify that the patient is terminally ill, has the capacity to make the decision to end his or her own life and has a clear and settled intention to end his or her life which was reached voluntarily, on an informed basis, without coercion or duress. There is a clause in the Bill which protects conscientious objectors, and rightly so, providing that no medical practitioner would be obliged to provide assisted dying. There are amendments I would want to make to the Bill. These relate to a waiting period for reflection, psychiatric evaluations, hearing more from experienced medical practitioners and confirmation that criteria are met by a High Court judge, a medical person and a layperson.”
Martin Kenny TD, Sinn Fein:
“If we agree that the right to die is to be vindicated, do we then automatically acquire a responsibility to assist someone to take his or her own life? It is never black and white. We know this. Like every other moral issue, there are times we feel one way and occasions when we feel another. The rationality of the decision is a major issue and, of course, there must be some strong safeguards against assisting in the death of those who cannot make a rational decision on the matter. There are questions that must be asked of everyone contemplating this hard option and anyone contemplating assisting such people, especially the terminally ill. Is it an optional that I want to consider? Should I hold out for the chance of cure? How should I time my death? What weight should I give to the welfare interests of others?”
Roisin Shortall TD, Social Democrats:
“An important contribution was made to the debate by Mr. Michael Nugent with regard to his late wife, Anne, to which the Minister referred. There was also an important contribution this week from Mr. Fintan O’Toole regarding his late father’s death. In both cases, the point was made that the big fear of the person struggling with the terminal illness was that they would not be able to take that decision themselves. Once they were given an assurance, either on medication or support in accessing the carrying out of a decision with regard to ending their life, they relaxed about it. Once they were given that reassurance the anxiety went and, as it turned out, both people concerned had natural deaths. That is a fundamental right that I believe any of us would want for ourselves or for our loved ones. We cannot avoid this issue any longer.”
Alan Kelly TD, Labour Party:
“We all know that this is not a black-and-white issue. We all know there will be grey areas, that we will have to go through this legislation in a huge amount of detail. We all know we will change parts of the legislation, to which the proposer is very much open. We all know there are concerns about people who are considered vulnerable and that people could potentially be taken advantage of. We all know checks and balances will have to be put in place. We in the Labour Party value people’s dignity above all else and want to ensure that everybody is protected and everybody can have the fullest life that he or she deserves.”
Peter Fitzpatrick TD, Independent:
“The title of the Bill does not convey what the Bill would actually permit, which is euthanasia, plain and simple. Euthanasia is a deeply sensitive issue for many older people and those who are most vulnerable in our community. Today is the United Nations International Day of Older Persons. It is a very sad thing that we are debating a Bill about ending life rather than talking about assisting and enriching lives on such an important day…. The impact of what is said in debates like this and the changes to the law in the area can be devastating for the most vulnerable and fragile members of our community who oftentimes start to see themselves as a burden on society with a duty to end their lives. We must listen to what the experts are saying in this regard.”
Anne Rabbitte, Minister of State at Department of Health:
“We have big questions to ask about the Bill. For me, the biggest one at present is whether the current legal status of assisted dying is in step or out of step with Irish public opinion. What does the electorate want? As elected Members of the Dáil, we need to ensure we are correctly representing people. I do not believe we have the time and space to do that properly without the proposed amendment the Government has tabled. The proposed joint Oireachtas committee would provide the time and space to undertake a detailed examination of the proposal in the Bill, hear expert advice and make recommendations on how best to proceed, including on possible amendments.”
Brid Smith TD, Solidarity – People Before Profit:
“The question of vulnerability is really a distraction by the Minister of State and Deputy Fitzpatrick because actually there is an argument to be made that if we legislate for assisted dying, we will protect people even more. In that circumstance, they can have frank and honest conversations with the medical profession, they can make decisions, there are time limits in place, the process is overseen by two medical persons who are qualified to do so and there is less vulnerability.”
Gino Kenny TD, Solidarity – People Before Profit:
“I am not against having an all-party committee. My concern is that we have had reports and committees before but nothing ever happened. That has been my experience here. It is extremely frustrating when nothing happens. I hope this time it might be different. What is important in this debate is that politics is left outside. I know it is difficult sometimes but if we can leave our political allegiances outside, I think we can progress on this debate. This is about humanity, compassion and empathy for our fellow human beings who find themselves in the most difficult circumstances. They do not want to go through unbearable pain for themselves or for their families. On that basis, will the Minister of State drop the amendment to allow the Bill to proceed to pre-legislative scrutiny?”