The Joint Oireachtas Committee on Assisted Dying should “advocate strongly for greater investment in the provision of palliative care across Ireland, as well as better awareness of its scope and purpose” instead of proposing legislation on assisted dying, the Catholic Church has said.
“We are opposed to the deliberate ending of human life, both for reasons of faith and for reasons connected with the defence of the common good,” it said in a presentation to the committee by Petra Conroy and Dr Margaret Naughton on behalf of the church.
“Death is a natural part of the human condition. We do not propose the use of extraordinary or aggressive treatments to prolong life in a way which conflicts with reason or with the dignity of the person. Our focus is on how people might be helped to experience a good death,” they said.
“Our Christian faith, which is shared by a significant proportion of the Irish people, teaches us that life is a gift which we hold in trust. The life and death of each of us has its impact on others and there is no such thing as a life without meaning or value,” they said.
A Church of Ireland submission, presented to the committee by Rev Dr Rory Corbett, quoted former Primate Archbishop Richard Clarke who said that “we must surely, as Christians, never concede that life is anything other than sacred, a gift of God from beginning to end, never to be thrown away as though it were personal property”.
Rev Dr Corbett said that “aside from issues of faith, there is a wealth of evidence which indicates that legislating for assisted death does nothing to improve the situation of vulnerable individuals and is open to overreliance, misuse, and abuse”.
People should “be aware of the dangerous trends seen in countries which have adopted legislation such as is being discussed here to normalise the process, loosen restrictions and open the system to abuse of the vulnerable”, he said. Introducing legislation which allowed for assisted dying in Ireland “would promote a casual, unfeeling attitude to those approaching the end of their life”, he said.
Former Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, Rev Dr David Bruce, told the committee that “killing is wrong”.
“This is killing. We, as those who respect the Hippocratic principles, don’t do it, and this is a place the medical profession ought not to go, nor a place where medical practitioners ought to be expected to act – notwithstanding the deeply complex pastoral issues surrounding coping with the latter stages of degenerative disease or incapacity through trauma.”
For him, it was revealing “that it is palliative care practitioners who have been the most adamant of the medical specialities opposing a change in the current law”. Such change “could cause a large and vulnerable group of citizens to be exposed to exploitation, by reasons such as depressive illness, lack of capacity or agency, unscrupulous coercion or manipulation by relatives or others to end their lives prematurely”, he said.
Rev Steven Foster, for the Methodist Church in Ireland, told the committee that “if assistance in dying was made law for those with irreversible, incurable and progressive illness, it seems to us that others would regard themselves as having the same right to die as those to whom any Bill was addressed”.
“For example, one who is suffering severe and intractable mental illness who is not physically unwell or terminally ill. That would raise further questions for the future and could leave us as a society, as well as the medical profession, more uncertain about the sanctity of life,” he said.
His church had “a particular regard and concern for those who are the most vulnerable in society. Those who are suffering terminal illness are certainly in a vulnerable state,” he said.
Shaykh Dr Umar Al-Qadri of the Irish Muslim Peace & Integration Council, told the committee that “in Islam, the unambiguous prohibition against suicide or assisted dying is unequivocally expressed in the Holy Koran”. Islam was opposed “to euthanasia, assisted suicide and assisted dying, categorically denouncing these acts as tantamount to murder”, he said.
Legalising assisted dying “may lead individuals to choose death without addressing the underlying causes of their health issues, including mental health. Moreover, there is a concern that vulnerable populations, such as people with disabilities or the elderly, may feel pressured to opt for assisted death to avoid being perceived as burdensome,” he said.
Neil Ward of the Humanist Association of Ireland told the committee that it supports assisted dying “for people who are suffering from a terminal, incurable or progressive condition and feel that their quality of life is so unbearable that they want a painless death at a time of their choosing.”
When it came to people who were “close to death, or suffering from a progressive incurable illness, we believe the individual should have the right to choose to end their life. To be denied this right means that many people suffer an end which is determined by the decisions of others,” he said.
Evidence showed that “the majority of people who choose to die have exhausted the palliative care measures available to them”, he said. He pointed out that “the majority of Irish people support legalising assisted dying. Let us make this a reality.”