Bill on living wills 'not about assisted suicide'


DÁIL REPORT: MINISTER FOR Health James Reilly has insisted that a Private Members’ Bill on living wills is not about assisted suicide or euthanasia.

Dr Reilly said the Advance Healthcare Decisions Bill “is about allowing patients make decisions, when they have the mental capacity to do so, about what they want at the end of their day” in their treatment, “such as whether or not they want to be resuscitated [or] . . . to be administered particular types of medication like chemotherapy”.

He said Ireland needed “a legislative framework in this area” because we were “way behind many other jurisdictions”.

The legislation was introduced by medical doctor and Wexford Fine Gael TD Liam Twomey, who said the Bill was “simply about empowering patients to become involved in decisions on their healthcare needs, both now and in the future, when they may not have the capacity to make a decision”.

An advance healthcare decision “is nothing more than what any of us could make if diagnosed with a significant illness. We would decide what treatments we would like, or would not like, to receive. . . . An advance healthcare decision plan . . . would allow a person to keep control when he or she no longer had the necessary capacity.”

He, too, stressed that the legislation was not about “euthanasia, the deliberate taking of somebody’s life when he or she decides life no longer has a value, nor is it about assisted suicide or refusing life-saving treatments such as blood transfusions”.

“This is about having the power to decide what treatments one would like to receive in the event that one receives a serious life-limiting diagnosis.”

Dr Twomey acknowledged there would be “significant resistance from the medical profession in the same way as there is always resistance in changing the status quo”.

Fianna Fáil health spokesman Billy Kelleher acknowledged the Bill was not a first step to euthanasia or assisted suicide, but claimed “there are thousands who believe it is”.

He called for the legislation to be “parked”, for a report drawn up by former attorney general Dermot Gleeson on the issue to be debated by the health committee, and for a wide debate on the issue, because there was no broad consensus.

Sinn Féin health spokesman Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin said the Bill could give legal effect to end- of-life care preferences, including the refusal of life-sustaining treatment and “for the appointment of an attorney, who could make certain decisions on a person’s behalf”. He said a healthcare professional would have no legal liability when they followed an advance decision they believed valid and applicable to the condition being treated.

Mr Ó Caoláin said such planning should be available to all, including mental health patients. Amnesty International pointed out that mental health advance directives applied in a number of countries, he said, and the Law Reform Commission had recommended legislative provision for advance care planning, with safeguards.

The Bill passed second stage in the Dáil and now goes to the health committee.