A group of doctors has called on the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Assisted Dying to proceed with their examination of the issue as a matter of urgency so that any recommended legislative changes can be enacted within the lifetime of the Government.
Irish Doctors supporting Medical Assistance in Dying (MAiD) spokeswoman, Dr Sinead Cotter, said the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Assisted Dying is due to begin hearings on June 13th, but time is of the essence as any proposed legislative change would have to be enacted before the next general election.
“If the bill is still stuck in the legislative process by the time Taoiseach Leo Varadkar heads to the Áras to dissolve the 33rd Dáil, then it falls, no matter how much work was involved and how close it is to being passed so it is vital that committee completes its work within the lifetime of this Government.”
The Joint Committee on Assisted Dying was formed on January 23rd to consider and make recommendations for legislative and policy change relating to a statutory right to assist a person to end their life and a statutory right to receive such assistance.
Fellow Irish Doctors supporting MAiD spokesman, Dr Andrew Lyne, said that the group have a strong belief in individual patient autonomy, and they believe that a person approaching the end of their life should be provided with accessible, high quality and evidence-based care to minimise suffering.
“We believe people dying from a terminal illness should have the choice of assisted dying and not have to endure unnecessary suffering. This choice is increasingly being valued throughout the world and is available in a growing number of places including Australia, New Zealand, Canada and Spain.”
Dr Lyne said Irish Doctors supporting MAiD will advocate through public advocacy and workshops for the introduction of Assisted Dying. They note an Amarach Poll in 2021 for the Claire Byrne Live show on RTÉ found that 74 per cent were in favour of Assisted Dying, with 14 per cent opposed with 12 per cent saying they didn’t know.
Dr Cotter said Irish Doctors supporting MAiD and another group, End of Life Ireland (EOLI), are holding a public meeting in the Metropole Hotel in Cork on May 31st which they hope will help foster a respectful and helpful discussion about a patient’s end of life wishes including Assisted Dying.
Among the speakers scheduled to speak is Tom Curran, partner of the late Marie Fleming, a 59-year-old terminally ill woman then living with multiple sclerosis, who challenged the law criminalising assisted suicide but lost her case in 2013.
The Supreme Court ruled that the right to life, under Article 40.3.2 of the Constitution, does not have a corollary right to die which means that while suicide has been decriminalised, assisting someone to take their own life remains an offence punishable by up to 14 years in prison.
However, while the Supreme Court dismissed Ms Fleming’s appeal brought with the Irish Human Rights Commission (IHRC), it did describe Ms Fleming’s case as “tragic” and chose to make an observation, suggesting that there was room for the State to intervene in cases like Ms Fleming.
It stated that nothing in its judgment should be taken as necessarily implying that it would not be open to the State, in the event that the Oireachtas was satisfied that measures with appropriate safeguards could be introduced, to legislate to deal with a case such as that of Ms Fleming.
The Oireachtas Special Committee on Assisted Dying, which is chaired by Kerry Independent TD Michael Healy-Rae was set up in the wake of the Oireachtas Justice Committee examining a Dying with Dignity Bill which was put forward by Dublin People Before Profit TD, Gino Kenny.
Mr Kenny’s bill had sought to allow for the provision of assisted dying in cases where a person has been diagnosed with a terminal illness with the aim of allowing them to achieve a dignified and peaceful end of life.