An Irish human rights body has described the “title and purpose” of the ‘Dying with Dignity’ bill proposed by Gino Kenny TD as “potentially misleading”, saying that the legislation is really about allowing doctors to assist patients to end their own lives. 

In its submission to the Committee on Justice on the proposed Bill, the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC) also said that “significant amendments” would be required to the Bill to ensure it met “obligations to provide for robust and effective safeguards, as is required under the Constitution and human rights law.”

“The title and purpose of the Bill The title and purpose of the Bill are potentially misleading. The proposed legislation is primarily about physician assisted dying,” the IHREC noted. If passed, the legislation would make Assisted Suicide legal for the first time in Ireland.

“However, it is entitled “the Dying with Dignity Bill” the purpose of which is to “make provision for the assistance in achieving a dignified and peaceful end of life.” As outlined above achieving a dignified and peaceful end of life engages a range of human rights and equality obligations, including the palliative care needs of people at the end of their life. If the purpose of the Bill is to achieve “dying with dignity” then the Bill would need to be substantively revised to take account of the palliative care needs and wishes of people at the end of life,” they submitted.

The IHREC also warned TDs that the human rights of people with disabilities would need to be protected, and that extensive consultation with at-risk groups should be required. The Commission also noted that the Bill provided no threshold in relation to likelihood of dying, giving as an example a maximum of 6 months).

Yesterday, the Life Institute, in its submission to the Justice Committee warned “that the failure to include rudimentary safeguards [in the Bill] indicates an astonishing carelessness as to the protection of vulnerable people.
.The pro-life group said that “despite media claims, relief of pain and suffering is not mentioned in the Bill” and pointed to an interview given by Deputy Kenny to Newstalk where he did not seem to seem to be aware that his own draft legislation made no reference to the relief of “unbearable suffering” despite his insistence that the Bill’s intent was to deal with pain and suffering.  “It is to be assumed that the Justice Committee is more familiar with the Bill than its originator,” they wrote. They also submitted that the term ‘terminally ill’ used in the proposal was “wide open” to interpretation, with no requirement for the patient to be at end of life.

“The Bill requires that a person be ‘terminally ill’ to avail of assisted suicide. A terminally ill person is defined as “having an incurable and progressive illness which cannot be reversed by treatment, and the person is likely to die as a result of that illness or complications”. This broad definition could include Parkinsons, heart disease, dementia and many other conditions. As the Committee will be aware, people suffering from incurable and progressive diseases can live for many years. Yet, there is no requirement that the person be at the end of life to seek assisted suicide  – once a diagnosis is received, the ending of one’s life can be requested,” the Life Institute said.

The draft legislation which was supported by a majority of TDs in the Dáil and is now being reviewed by the Oireachtas Committee on Justice