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Irish Churches oppose assisted-dying Bill

19 February 2021

It contravenes the right to life, and is a failure of compassion, they argue

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BOTH the Anglican and Roman Catholic Churches in Ireland have urged the abandonment of a Bill to legalise assisted dying.

In submissions to the parliamentary justice committee, which is considering the Dying with Dignity Bill, they say that the Bill would undermine the value of life and place vulnerable people at risk.

The Second Reading of Gino Kenny TD’s Private Member’s Bill was carried by 81 votes to 71, and the Bill was sent through to Committee Stage in the Dáil (lower house) last October, after the three governing parties allowed a free vote (News, 16 October 2020). The Bill will allow health-care professionals to help terminally ill adult patients to take their own life, provided that they have made a declaration of their “clear and settled intention to end their life”.

The Church of Ireland’s submission argues that the Bill contravenes the right to life, which underpins both the Irish legal code and international human-rights law. “Beyond the legal underpinning affirming life is an acceptance that each individual life has purpose, value and meaning, even if some individuals doubt that for themselves. To bring someone’s life to an end is not life-affirming.”

The Bill also contradicts society’s responsibility to care for the vulnerable, and introduces dangerous provisions, the submission says. “The alternatives to assisted dying exist and those involved in palliative care are almost unanimous in claiming that these problems can be controlled, and existential distress is not a good reason to hasten death,” the submission concludes.

It argues that there are also technical problems with the Bill, including a lack of psychiatric assessment of the patient, and no explanation of how advanced a terminal illness should be to qualify.

The Catholic Bishops’ Conference submits that the legislation’s aim of securing a “dignified and peaceful end of life” is best achieved by “good palliative care, by upholding absolute respect for human life and, at the same time, acknowledging human mortality”.

Assisted suicide represents a failure of compassion by society, it says. “The Bill would coerce the consciences of objecting healthcare providers in order to facilitate something they know to be gravely immoral and utterly incompatible with their vocation to heal. This burdening of conscience is unnecessary, disproportionate and seriously unjust.”

Furthermore, judging by the experience of other countries, legalising assisted suicide would place huge “emotional and social pressure” on the terminally ill, disabled, and other vulnerable people to end their lives rather than request high-quality palliative care, which should be available to them.

The proposed law has also been criticised by palliative-care doctors. The Royal College of Physicians of Ireland has argued that the potential harms of legalised assisted suicide outweigh the arguments in favour.

But the group Irish Doctors supporting Medical Assistance in Dying (IdsMAiD) submits that medically assisted dying can be introduced in a “safe and fair manner” and that terminally patients “deserve to have their choice respected”.

The submission, signed by 100 doctors, states the Bill’s criteria for qualifying for assisted dying are appropriately “conservative and restrictive” and that its safeguards are “conservative, balanced and fair”.

In Northern Ireland, the Church of Ireland has also supported a new Bill proposed by the Democratic Unionist Party to outlaw abortions of foetuses with non-fatal disabilities. Under law recently imposed by Westminster, abortions can be carried out up to term in the case of severe physical or mental disability.

A church spokesperson said: “‘[We have] opposed the introduction of criteria that would permit disabilities to become a reason for termination. The Church’s position is that abortion should be confined to situations of strict and undeniable medical necessity.”

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