Assisted Dying Bill needs proper debate

 

Sir, – It is healthy to examine our values and the reasons informing them, and it may well be time to consider the way the end of life is managed by society. Indeed it may well be time that we allow for the aims of the current Bill, namely that a person who is terminally ill may request assistance to end their life and be granted such assistance, under very limited conditions.

However, it is undeniable that this would amount to a major change in the way we express our values, and that it would fundamentally alter the way we treat terminally ill people.

It is usual that if such a major change is proposed that there would be intense public analysis. When we as a nation were considering the introduction of abortion, there was much debate and the government established a citizens’ assembly to closely examine the complex issues involved. In that case there had to be a constitutional amendment and so a referendum was necessary.

In the current situation, a vote of the Oireachtas is all that is needed.

What is obvious is that this is not a simple issue with overwhelming arguments on one side or the other. This is a complex issue, with complex thinking required to analyse it. No doubt there are strong contradictory opinions held by different people and groups, as well as many more nuanced and subtle opinions. All these need to be heard and considered.

In this context it is alarming that the Dáil rejected an amendment to the Bill that would have sent it to a special Oireachtas committee to be examined over the next 12 months. It seemed like an opportunity to stand back, consult widely and encourage us all to consider the matters as deeply as possible.

The sponsor of the Bill, TD Gino Kenny, acknowledges that the issue is “extremely difficult for everyone” and that the most important voice we listen to should be that of the terminally ill patient (News, October 8th). Of course it is hugely important that these patients and their families be heard but this is an issue for society as a whole, not just the section most affected. Actually it is hard to see that the voice of the terminally ill can be heard if the debate is confined to the passing of the Bill through the Oireachtas.

There is still likely to be an opportunity at committee stage to revive in some form or another a much longer and comprehensive examination of the proposal, involving consultation with a wide range of interested people and groups. We should support such a move. – Yours, etc,

DESMOND KELLY,

Drumcondra,

Dublin 9.

Sir, – Prof Jim Egan (Letters, October 7th) sees no reason to enhance patient autonomy in relation to end-of-life care because legislation is already in place in the form of advanced healthcare directives. This observation ignores the limits imposed by section 2 of the Criminal Law (Suicide) Act 1993 which criminalises assisted suicide.

Prof Egan is concerned that the Dying With Dignity Bill 2020 will pose a threat to palliative care services, but he does not explain why the option for assisted dying would present such a risk.

The Irish Association for Palliative Care, although opposed to voluntary euthanasia, acknowledges that, “Excellent health services, including an excellent palliative care service, will not eliminate all requests for euthanasia” (Discussion Paper, March 2011).

Therefore, it can be argued that palliative care services alone will not satisfy the needs of all patients. Palliative care services and assisted dying are not mutually incompatible.

Greater consideration needs to be given to the wishes of patients who clearly express their intentions. – Yours, etc,

Dr DON O’LEARY,

Mallow,

Co Cork.

Sir, – May I point out that the headline “Clear majority in favour of permitting assisted dying” is misleading (News, October 9th). The 52 per cent found to be in favour of “assisted dying” would, on its own, constitute, at most, a slim majority. However this ignores the 2.8 per cent accuracy level or margin of error, which could , if applied, reduce those “in favour” to below 50 per cent. The heading ignores this important fact and is therefore tendentious. – Yours, etc.

DESMOND SWAN,

Stillorgan,

Co Dublin.