No equal right to life if law embraces suicide risk
Essentially he was arguing that once a right is contingent on the behaviour of another person, it does not enjoy the protection of the Constitution. That is a really radical doctrine, which, carried to its conclusion, would undermine almost all human rights law. All lives are “contingent” on the behaviour of others. The life of a baby after birth is certainly “contingent” on the care given to it by its mother and by others.
For these reasons, I would argue that the Oireachtas should interpret the words in the Constitution in their normal meaning, particularly the simple word “equal”.
In considering legislation, the members of the Oireachtas should read for themselves the words in the Constitution, and the X case judgment, and decide for themselves what they can or must do in respecting the Constitution.
The Supreme Court does not instruct the legislature on how to legislate, and participants in each branch of the State should interpret the words of the Constitution as they are actually written, rather than as some of them might retrospectively prefer them to have been written.Members of the Oireachtas, in particular, should read the words of the Constitution, in the same way their constituents, who are the authors of the Constitution, would read them.
That should leave them fully free to frame legislation to deal with the C case as decided by the European Court of Human Rights, and with the Savita Halappanavar case, that would be consistent with article 40 of the Constitution. Neither case involved a threat of suicide. They involved medical judgment of objective medical risks.
On the other hand, to introduce a law providing that an expression of a threat of suicide by one person would be sufficient ground for the taking away of the life of another, would not be in accord with the actual words in the Constitution. There would be no “equal” right to life in such a law, and an equal right to life is what the Constitution requires.
If the Oireachtas does not like the way article 40.3.3 of the Constitution is framed it could of course ask the people if they wished to amend it. Personally I would not favour such a change.
But, in the meantime, the Oireachtas should interpret plain language plainly, and forbear from legal sophistry. To do otherwise would be to leave the constitutional protection of the most profound of all human rights, the right to be allowed to live and breathe, resting on sand. It would institute a rule of convenience, at the expense of a rule of rights.
JOHN BRUTON is a former taoiseach