‘A very sensitive and emotive issue’ – assisted dying referred to special Dáil committee

THE issue of ‘assisted dying’ – seen by some as euthanasia – is to be referred to a special Dáil committee.

t will carry out hearings over 12 months, taking evidence from experts and interested parties, and the issue could eventually go to referendum.

New Zealand is to hold a referendum on the subject on October 17.

Announcing the committee, the Government said the subject raised “medical, moral, ethical, criminal justice and constitutional issues.”

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Terminally-ill Vicky Phelan outside Leinster House yesterday

Collins Dublin, Gareth Chaney

Terminally-ill Vicky Phelan outside Leinster House yesterday

A previous court case resulted in a court noting that the Oireachtas was free to bring forward legislation in the area.

But any legislation could clash with Article 40. 2 (2) of the Constitution, which guarantees that the State will protect the life of every citizen.

The subsection that follows, which was inserted after a referendum, states that provision may be made for the termination of pregnancy.

The creation of a special committee followed a prolonged discussion at Cabinet today, taking up a larger amount of time than any other subject considered.

It could offset the Dying with Dignity Bill, brought in the name of People Before Profit TD Gino Kenny, which gets its first reading in the Dáil on Thursday.

Helping an actual or attempted suicide is currently a serious offence, but the Bill would decriminalise such an action. Mr Kenny last night called on the Government to withdraw its amendment to allow the Bill as drafted to go to committee stage.

He said he thought the principle that justice delayed is justice denied “would apply for some people who are terminally ill.”

Mr Kenny did, however, accept the bona fides of the Government “because people do want to see the issue debated before the law is changed. I think it’s inevitable that it’s going to happen.”

Nonetheless, he said it was “imperative that the Government drop the amendment and let the Bill go to pre-legislative scrutiny.

“Public opinion is well ahead of Government in relation to this, as with a lot of other social issues. The discussion is ongoing, not only here but in the streets and in households,” said Mr Kenny.

“But we’re the ones that can change the law. It’s up to us to change the law in favour of voluntary assisted dying.”

A spokesman for the Government said: “Changes to the law in this area cannot be rushed. Referral to a special committee will allow for a wider public debate.”

The spokesman acknowledged that Mr Kenny’s Bill was “sincere in its intent”, but he added that it gave rise to the most serious questions.

The committee would look at all circumstances, having regard to the value of human life and “whether any change is justified.”

Fine Gael has an apparent majority in favour of the draft legislation, with Leo Varadkar telling his parliamentary party last week that there seemed to be a consensus in favour of a free vote. Ministers will be bound by the Government amendment, a spokesman for the Tánaiste said.

Eamon Ryan recommended a special committee to Cabinet. The Green Party has a policy standpoint in favour of assisted dying.

Labour Party leader Alan Kelly told the Irish Independent that he was personally in favour of the legislation, but he also said there was a lot of work to be done.

“I personally support the Bill and I will be talking to my party colleagues about it with a view to taking an agreed position. I think it will go through to committee stage,” said Mr Kelly.

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said: “We have studied the legislation; we feel it needs further consideration.

“It is a very sensitive and emotive issue, affecting so many people in so many families, so we will be supporting the passage of the legislation (at second stage) and look forward to further deliberation.”

She added: “We have to get this right, and I think we need to listen very carefully to those families who are either living through an experience or who have that experience of heartbreak and real physical suffering in their families.

“I think it is going to be a hard debate. I think this is a hard conversation for people, and a difficult one for us as a society, but one I think we need to have.

“We are happy for it to go forward, and then we need to assess it very forensically and methodically. The whole objective here is to get it right.”

There are believed to be some misgivings in Sinn Féin.

“I would be astonished if there were not different views across parties and across society. That’s entirely to be expected,” Ms McDonald said.

Vicky Phelan, the cervical cancer campaigner who is terminally ill, has appealed to politicians to allow her and others to die with dignity.

Her message to politicians, she said, was: “Allow us to die a peaceful death with dignity.”

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