Ireland moves closer to assisted suicide after draft law passes

(Photo: Unsplash/Luis Melendez)

Ireland's lawmakers voted on Wednesday to move forward with the legalisation of assisted suicide. 

The Coalition had sought to delay the legislation by referring the issue to a special committee but this was rejected by Dail members (TD) by 86 votes to 65. 

Instead TDs voted 81 to 71 in favour of advancing the Dying with Dignity Bill to committee stage. 

The Bill was introduced to the Dail last week by People Before Profit TD Gino Kenny, who said that people in unbearable pain from terminal illness "should have that choice" of ending their lives. 

"We should hear their voice and not vilify them," he said.

Coinciding with the debate in the Dail, the Irish Catholic Bishops' Conference this week released a document titled 'Care at the End of Life' in which they said that euthanasia and assisted suicide were "always gravely sinful". 

"Assisted suicide is often presented as something that would be rare and exceptional. Once assisted suicide is accepted in principle, it becomes very difficult to draw a line," the bishops said. 

"Many countries, which began by legalising assisted suicide on a very limited basis, have moved on to widen significantly the scope of that legislation." 

Instead, they called for an emphasis on quality palliative care. 

"We ask people to consider the manner in which assisted suicide and euthanasia undermines the whole ethos of healthcare," they said.

"Doctors and nurses are called to be advocates for life and should never be required to assist in any way in the deliberate ending of life.

"We invite you to join us in prayer for those who, at this time, are coming to terms with a diagnosis of terminal illness, that they may have the blessing of a community of compassion and care." 

The Irish Palliative Medicine Consultants' Association (IPMCA) has said it is "gravely concerned" by the proposals in the Dying with Dignity Bill. 

In a letter to Irish newspapers this week, they expressed fears about the impact on older adults, the disabled and people with mental health issues. 

"We fear that the most vulnerable are those who may be made to feel a burden to their families and come under pressure to end their lives prematurely," the doctors said. 

"Our experiences tell us that many in our society don't really know what dying is like, or how rare it is that severe pain cannot be controlled.

"Most people do not know that the easing of physical, psychological or spiritual distress and addressing people's fears, hopes, sadness and loss can transform the experiences of living, dying and bereavement for individual patients and their families."