No universal ‘right’ answer on whether to allow assisted dying or continue blanket ban

Oireachtas committee examining issue told voices of people with disabilities must have a central place in debate

There is no “universal or uncontested ‘right’ answer” as to whether it is better to legalise assisted dying or to continue the blanket ban on it, an academic has said.

The joint Oireachtas committee on assisted dying, chaired by Independent TD for Kerry Michael Healy-Rae, on Tuesday held its third meeting, which focused on the ethical and legal framework around end-of-life care.

Dr Louise Campbell, a lecturer in medical ethics at the University of Galway, said the language used in defining eligibility under a legalised scheme has “significant implications for people living with chronic illness and disability”.

“If a decision is made to introduce a provision for assisted dying into Irish law, this must be done with the greatest attention to any potential exacerbation of existing inequalities, including those created by stigma and exclusion,” she said in her opening statement.


“At the same time, it must not be presumed that people living with disability have no interest in assisted dying. It is vital that the voices of disability activists and members of the disability community have a central place in this discussion.”

No ‘right’ answer

Dr Campbell said there is no “universal or uncontested ‘right’ answer” as to whether it is better to legalise or to continue the blanket ban on assisted dying.

“There are ethical risks and losses associated with each option. Permitting medical assistance in dying risks allowing people who may be vulnerable because of illness, pain, fear, depression, disability, stigma, financial or family pressures or lack of access to appropriate care to shorten their lives in situations in which they may have made a different decision had a viable alternative been available,” she said.

“Prohibiting medical assistance in dying risks condemning people who are suffering in ways which are intolerable to them to the continuation of a life they do not want to live but are unable to end by themselves.”

Dr Campbell said the differences in opinion on the issue is “incapable of resolution because it is rooted in a deep conflict of values: autonomy, sanctity of life, protection of the vulnerable, relief of suffering, the integrity of the medical profession”.

She added that it was incumbent for policymakers to scrutinise the arguments put forward on each side of the debate to assess their validity “and determine whether they are consonant with available data from jurisdictions in which the practice is legal”.

Shauna Bowers

Shauna Bowers

Shauna Bowers is Health Correspondent of The Irish Times