The Private Member’s Bill to legalise assisted suicide and euthanasia, proposed by Deputy Gino Kenny, has been rejected by the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice as it contains serious flaws and it was criticised by the majority of the public submissions, particularly by doctors.
The Committee has recommended that a Special Oireachtas Committee should be established to undertake an examination of the topics raised by the report on the proposed Bill.
Major legal concerns had been raised by the Office of Parliamentary Legal Advisers, which found errors in all sections of the Bill. One section would be vulnerable to a constitutional challenge as it delegates too much to the Minister for Justice, while the ambiguities and serious drafting errors in other sections, they said, could potentially render the Bill vulnerable to a challenge before courts.
The Bill was badly drafted and the Committee rejected the suggestion that it could be improved if progressed to the next stage. Last year, David Quinn debated the Bill with Gino Kenny and the TD did not appear to understand his own piece of legislation.
The possibly of establishing a Citizens’ Assembly on these topics was also excluded as “Members considered that Parliament is the appropriate forum for consideration of this matter” (p. 34)
Last November, as part of the scrutiny, the Committee opened a call for written submissions on the proposed Bill. Over 1,400 submissions were received, the majority of which were critical of the Bill. One of the submissions came from the Iona Institute.
The strongest opposition came from the medical profession.
The report tells us that the Committee received 64 individual medical submissions, the majority of which were opposed to the Bill, and 36 submissions from medical stakeholders (professional bodies, medical schools, etc.). “Nearly all the 36 submissions in this category stated their opposition to the proposed Bill or raised their doubts and concerns over elements contained within the Bill.” (p. 17)
They said that portraying assisted suicide as an alternative to suffering, “would promote the wrong message in relation to terminal illnesses”. (p. 17) The doctors objected to the title of the “Dying with Dignity” Bill as “it undermines the work of palliative organisations by implying that assisted dying is the better or the only way to have dignity when dying.” They also highlighted their concern for the lack of provision for conscientious objection for pharmacists, who have to provide the lethal drugs.
Over half of the 29 submissions from rights-based organisations were against or raised concern with some elements of the Bill, and all of the 435 submissions from faith-based organisations opposed the Bill, highlighting the sanctity and value of all lives.
Ten submissions came from individuals and groups from other jurisdictions, including Irish people who live abroad. They were evenly split between those in favour and those against the proposed legislation. One of them outlined the experience in Canada, where the introduction of euthanasia “had resulted in significant impacts on palliative care. Additionally, they have seen continuous cases of non-compliance with the law and increasing cases of vulnerable, elderly people being suggested to avail of medical assistance in dying because the costs of their care is too great or their perceived quality of life is too poor.” (p. 27)
The report by the Committee for Justice concluded that the Bill “has serious technical issues in several sections, that it may have unintended policy consequences – particularly regarding the lack of sufficient safeguards to protect against undue pressure being put on vulnerable people to avail of assisted dying – that the drafting of several sections of the Bill contain serious flaws that could potentially render them vulnerable to challenge before the courts, and that the gravity of such a topic as assisted dying warrants a more thorough examination which could potentially benefit from detailed consideration by a Special Oireachtas Committee”. And for all these reasons it should not progress.
This is a small but significant victory that has been achieved thanks to the direct involvement of the medical profession. They deal every with suffering and with end-of-life situations, and their voices should be taken in great consideration at Special Oireachtas Committee that will discuss these topics again soon.
However, there is still an uphill battle ahead as most TDs seem to favour assisted suicide in some form.