Assisted dying unlikely to be facilitated, says Irish Hospice Foundation

Assisted suicide ‘anathema’ to ethos of palliative care movement

It remains highly unlikely assisted dying would be facilitated in hospices, the chief executive of the Irish Hospice Foundation (IHF) has said.

Speaking in advance of the foundation's biennial forum, which takes place over two days and online from Tuesday, Sharon Foley said the concept of assisted suicide went against the ethos of the palliative care movement, which was to "neither hasten nor prolong death".

Many working in hospices “would be very conflicted” about helping someone to die even if it was their wish.

“I can’t see it happening in Irish hospices, no. The palliative care movement has come from a movement of dignity and comforting people at the end of life. So it is anathema to them to be any way cutting across that.”


Most hospices in Ireland were founded by religious bodies and retain their Catholic ethos. The three main hospices in Dublin, for example, were founded by the Daughters of Charity (St Francis Hospice in Raheny and Blanchardstown) and the Sisters of Charity (Our Lady's Hospice in Harold's Cross and Blackrock). All are independent of the Irish Hospice Foundation.

Ms Foley said there were "so many holes" in a recent Bill which would have legalised assisted suicide. The Dying With Dignity Bill was tabled last year by Solidarity-People Before Profit TD Gino Kenny.

‘Well-intentioned people’

She reiterated the IHF's call for a "very full, inclusive and thoughtful debate around assisted dying" before any legislation was brought before the Oireachtas again. In July, the Oireachtas committee on justice recommended that a special committee be established "to undertake an examination on the topic of assisted dying which should report within a specific timeframe" – a move welcomed by the IHF.

Ms Foley told The Irish Times: “Our feeling on the Bill is that despite its coming from very well-intentioned people, it was a rushed process . . . There are lots of bits missing, that haven’t been considered . . . It’s such an impactful area of our lives and the Irish people deserve that very inclusive, considered debate.”

She said there was huge scope for improving the processes of dying and of grieving, and called for a “whole of Government” strategy on dying, death and bereavement.

“Just as there has been a huge push in recent years to improve the experience of childbirth, safety around childbirth, it is the same around end of life. More can be done to enable people to die well , die at home, die with dignity.”

With the “increased medicalisation of death”, she said our familiarity with death had diminished. There was “death avoidance” both socially and politically, said Ms Foley.

“We want to break open that taboo about death and encourage people to talk about it. We want people to have the best death possible but, to get there, there needs to be more thinking and planning around end of life. Assisted dying is one part of it. Another is people planning for their own end of life. What do they want for themselves?”

Among the questions she said needed in-depth examination and better responses were: “Have we got sufficient facilities for people to die at home? What facilities are there in nursing homes and hospitals? How are schools supported to help children through grief? What impact does complicated grief, where people may not be able to go back to work, have on the economy?”

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland is Social Affairs Correspondent of The Irish Times