Next Dáil unlikely to act on right-to-die issue if Coalition is re-elected

Taoiseach says change would probably require referendum and is not on agenda

Joan Burton and  Enda Kenny: in agreement on  right-to-die   issue. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Joan Burton and Enda Kenny: in agreement on right-to-die issue. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins


Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Tánaiste Joan Burton have all but ruled out a referendum on the so-called right-to-die issue in the next Dáil if both parties are re-elected to government.

In separate round-robin interviews conducted over Christmas, both the Fine Gael leader and his Labour counterpart indicated that allowing people with terminal conditions the right to choose the time of their own death was not on the agenda.

Mr Kenny categorically ruled out such a possibility.

“No, this has been raised once or twice from a number of distressing deaths. We have had legal advice on that before; it is not constitutionally possible. It would probably require a referendum, but it is not one I am considering now, though these are distressing cases that come to light as well,” he said.

Asked if he would consider putting the issue to a constitutional convention, he said the citizens’ assembly (the name for the entity he intends to convene in the next Dáil) would focus its efforts on only one issue, and that is the possibility of repealing the eighth amendment of the Constitution, on abortion.

“This particular issue is one that requires the most respectful and sensitive discussion, and that is what it’s going to get,” he said. “So I think that, of itself, we will go through the various circumstances and issues that are raised, in regard to women in particular, the various circumstances that apply there.

“This really needs careful thoughtful [consideration] and time allocated to it so that it can be reflected on fully and completely.”

For her part, Ms Burton indicated that she would be in favour of the right-to-die issue being looked at, but not in the shorter term.

She said she believed that, as a society, we do need a discussion about end-of-life issues, such as “people dying under strip lights in a big hospital ward without much privacy or dignity”.