‘Assisted dying’ and public opinion

We need a wider debate to test assumptions of political elite

Sir, – In the light of the overwhelming defeat of the Government in the last two referendums, it scarcely behoves any TD to opine on the unsought views of the electorate on a matter of such ethical, legal and medical gravity as assisted dying.

Yet TD Gino Kenny seems sure beyond all doubt that the views of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Assisted Dying, of which he is a member, reflects public opinion (Letters March 28th).

I don’t doubt the sincerity and good intentions of the TD in arguing for legislation to sanction this highly controversial medical intervention, one that has been debated for decades in the academic journals of modern medical ethics, law and philosophy.

However, only recently has the terminology morphed from “assisted suicide” (now described as fully consented medical assistance to those with long-term progressive conditions to terminate their lives) to “assisted dying” (now described as allowing mentally competent adults, close to the end of their lives, to administer to themselves medically prescribed life-terminating drugs).


This contentious distinction poses extreme difficulties for legislation to protect. As matters stand, our current legislative regime does not permit intentional killing in the form of a statutory right to assisted suicide.

However, rationally speaking, why deny patient-consented medical termination of life in one setting of physical anguish and allow it in another? There is no hierarchy in suffering and those in the former group would be fully entitled to legally challenge any such distinction, and no doubt would rightly do so. The matter is not clearly so simple as Mr Kenny would like us to believe.

Moreover, should legislation be forthcoming, Mr Kenny’s assertion that public opinion is on his side needs to be tested. The medical profession, faith groups, representatives for the disabled, mentally incapacitated and other vulnerable groups have all voiced their opposition. It is only through intensive, wide-reaching and informed calm reflection and debate followed by a referendum (it is not at all clear why there should not be one) that the electorate’s views on the matter will be known. For, as recent experience has shown, our elected representatives can be woefully wrong in their reading of it. – Yours, etc,