Thursday, December 24, 2015

Euthanasia & assisted suicide bill in Irish Parliament

This article was published on the HOPE Australia website on December 23.

Paul Russell
By Paul Russell, the director of HOPE Australia.

Irish Deputy, John Halligan tabled his Dying with Dignity Bill 2015 in the Irish Lower House (Dail) on the 15th of December.

Halligan had been telling the Irish Press that a bill was imminent for much of this last year claiming that he had been working with Exit International’s European representative, Tom Curran and two solicitors to draft the new bill.

Curran was the partner of Marie Fleming who went through the Irish Courts seeking in vain to overturn the statutes on assisting in suicide so that Curran could accompany her to Dignitas in Switzerland without falling foul of the law. Fleming has since passed away.

The Bill, the ‘Dignity in Dying Bill 2015’ would usher in both assisted suicide and euthanasia; the latter only being available if the person could not effectively take the lethal dose without assistance. In a strange insertion, Halligan’s bill also allows for the creation of an unspecified machine that would deliver the fatal dose after being activated in some way by the patient. This sounds very much like Exit International’s ‘stock-in-trade’, its supremo, Philip Nitschke, having developed a number of ‘deliverance’ machines over the years. This is the first time, however, that this writer has seen an attempt to codify the practice in law.

The bill while restricting access to only those with a terminal diagnosis, does not set a time frame for the progress of the illness or disease. Many other bills of this type have tried to restrict access to those with less than six months to live. Halligan’s bill, by contrast, would have a person qualify from the day they receive their diagnosis; regardless of how long they may live, whether or not remission or even cure is possible.

It is hard to know whether Halligan was himself totally clear on what his own bill does and does not do, and one will easily forgive an exaggeration or two by someone trying to make the case. But Halligan’s explanation of his bill in his speech before the Dail last week is a far cry from the reality. He told the parliament:

‘This Bill proposes to introduce legislation recognising the right of clearly consenting adults who are enduring intolerable physical suffering to seek medical help to end their lives.’

He mentions pain and suffering a number of other times as well yet, curiously, there is nothing in this bill that says a person must be suffering; nothing. So, this pitch to the heart strings in images of loved ones in pain that conjure up a supposedly justifiable exception to killing people because they are suffering, that suggest – as we have often been told – that assisted suicide and euthanasia are only ever a ‘last resort’ are simply not true in this bill.

Whether by intent, oversight or ignorance, Halligan’s speech mislead the parliament.

The bill seems incomplete in places, including at least one sub-clause that makes no sense at all. Far from being a well-thought out bill worthy of a parliament’s attention and debate, it seems more likely that tabling this effort in December is more about face saving, massaging a constituency and/or an election pitch.

The Irish people are due to go to the polls to elect their next government sometime before early April 2016 at the call of the Prime Minster, the Taoiseach. This leaves little time for this bill to be debated in full.

Even so, Ireland is not immune from these debates and, no doubt, if re-elected, John Halligan or even someone else, will raise the matter again.

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