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As predicted, the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Assisted Dying has recommended the legalisation of assisted suicide and euthanasia in Ireland. Many concerned commentators argue that, as happened in other countries, the introduction of assisted suicide into this country, even under limited conditions, will lead to a slippery slope whereby restrictions will be liberalised over time, leading to an increasing culture of death. These and other concerns were outlined on the same day the report was released by the chair of the joint Oireachtas Committee, Michael Healy Rae TD. In the video below, Bishop Robert Barron discusses euthanasia and following that, Mary Ellen Hawkey from Wexford Parish writes about the topic.



By Mary Ellen Hawkey

The Joint Committee on Assisted Dying published its final report on Wednesday March 20th. It was somewhat unfortunate that on the same day Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s announcement of his resignation sent shockwaves through the news media capturing their attention to the exclusion of much commentary or analysis of what is one of the most significant reports in the history of Dáil Éireann.

If its recommendations are to be realised it will mark a radical departure from the ethos of Hippocratic medical ethics that has stood medicine in good stead since the fifth century BC when physicians swore “ I will neither give a deadly drug to anybody if asked for it, nor will I make a suggestion to this effect” –– the prohibition on participating in the taking of human life as stated in the Hippocratic Oath.

The Committee was established in 2023, and as explained by the Cathaoirleach (Chairman) Michael J. Healy-Rae T.D, their remit was “to consider and make recommendations for legislative and policy change relating to a legal right to assist a person to end his or her life and a legal right to receive such assistance. The Committee also agreed that it could recommend that no legislative or policy changes be made.”

Over the course of 24 public meetings the Committee heard from 106 individual witnesses either in person or online. Included were national and international experts in law, ethics, medicine, disability, palliative care, psychiatry and some very harrowing accounts from relatives of individuals who wished to have their lives terminated. The Committee is to be congratulated on the courteous, sensitive, thorough and in many instances, forensic questioning of their witnesses. However, efficient and diligent as they were, whether such a small group could be said to said to be representative of the electorate when pushing for legislation for their recommendations is a troubling question.

Eleven members of the committee voted in favour of assisted dying:

Recommendation 27 states that only a person diagnosed with a disease, illness or medical condition that is:

(a) Both incurable and irreversible;

(b) Advanced, progressive and will cause death;

(c) Expected to cause death within six months (or, in the case of a person with neurogenerative disease, illness or condition, within 12 months); and

(d) Causing suffering to the person that cannot be relieved in a manner that the patient finds tolerable.

It is quite a sobering thought that it requires a further 37 recommendations to ensure that these conditions are protected. Even more concerning, is that three members of the Committee, Cathaoirleach Mr Healy-Rae, Senator Ronán Mullen and T.D. Robert Troy dissented from the majority view. As reported in the Irish Times, (Tues March 19th, 2024) they will argue in their minority report: “There are no lives not worth living”. They will also call for funding for “long-promised, high-quality palliative care services”; a study on “ableism in Irish society”; and “much-increased mental health supports to identify depression problems” which they say can be a factor in requests for assisted dying. Additionally, they say, “The public would be better served by directing funding towards mental health than towards assisted dying.” All such concerns were raised by witnesses to the committee hearings.

While the dissenting members struck a blow for conscience as paramount, the protection afforded in the Report to the conscience of the health professional is not absolute. The report states at Recommendation 137:

'The Committee recommends that the right to conscious objection of all doctors and health workers directly involved in the provision of assisted dying should be protected in law.

Notwithstanding the above, the Committee recommends that when a doctor or health care professional exercise this right, this will not have the effect of closing of access to assisted dying to the patient. To this end , the law should place a requirement on a health care professional, who refuses to participate in the service, to refer onwards to a participating health care professional and/or a national oversight body'.

So, here we have not only a report that is legislating for assisted dying, a medical intervention opposed by many in the medical profession, but even more chillingly it demands legislation to suppress conscience, that inner voice that shapes our moral life, whether it be influenced by God, culture or family. How, in a Christian country, have we come to this?


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