C: Rónán Mullen (L) / © Qapta.es (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 https://bit.ly/3zjQ6Al) (R)

Senator calls for change to Assisted Dying Committee’s remit to avoid “shaping of public opinion”

Senator Rónán Mullen has called for a change to the Committee on Assisted Dying’s title and terms of reference in order to avoid “any perception of a predetermined outcome” to the Committee’s work.

Speaking in the Seanad on Thursday, the Senator asked for legal advice from the Oireachtas to change the Joint Committee’s title to the more impartial ‘Joint Committee on Assisted Dying/Assisted Suicide’. He also sought assurance that the Joint Committee can recommend against any legislative and/or policy change in the area.

The Independent Senator, who is leader of the Human Dignity Alliance, was appointed to the Committee of nine deputies and five senators to examine the issue after the Committee was established last November.

The Galway Senator and head of the Human Dignity Alliance said the Irish public can only have confidence that there is “no suggestion of a predetermined conclusion” if changes are made with regard to the Committee.

Last November, the Oireachtas Committee announced it would examine laws on assisted suicide by setting up the Committee calls from campaigners to once again open up a national discussion on the issue.

A previous attempt by Minister Helen McEntee to establish a special committee was rejected by the Dáil after Opposition TDs expressed concern. The Dying With Dignity Bill was initially proposed by former Independent TD John Halligan and was then re-introduced by People Before Profit TD Gino Kenny. 

However, the Bill was rejected by the Oireachtas Committee for Justice in July 2021, who stopped it making further progress. At the time, it faced strong criticism from medical professionals, including experts in palliative care and medicine. Almost all medical submissions to the Committee were against the Bill.

In February 2021, more than 2,700 healthcare professionals signed an open letter stating that they were “gravely concerned” about the effort to introduce assisted suicide in Ireland. Opponents have said such legislation would stigmatise the sick, elderly, and the disabled.

Kenny’s Bill was also criticised for lacking safeguards by the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission.

Senator Mullen, one of the five senators appointed by the Seanad to re-examine the issue in-depth, has written to the Chairperson-designate of the Joint Committee, Deputy Michael Healy Rae, to demand that the Committee’s title and terms of reference are changed. 

The Senator has asked that Mr Healy-Rae seek legal advice on whether the Committee can make the necessary changes or whether new resolutions need to be passed in the Dáil and Seanad.

Speaking in the Seanad yesterday, Senator Mullen said he objects to the wording of the task given to the Joint Committee “to consider and make recommendations for legislative and/or policy change in relation to a statutory right to assist a person to end their life (assisted dying)”. He said he wanted to put on record that he had serious concerns around the remit of the Committee.

“I have concerns about the terming of the Committee,” he said. “What is proposed by some in these houses is a change in the law that will make certain people in our society very, very vulnerable to feeling that they don’t belong in our society any more.

“We spend a lot of time and effort and resources, rightly, on discouraging suicide, so for me, this is a Joint Committee looking at the issue of assisted suicide – and that’s how I intend to term it.

“And I do think the Committee that has been set up should seek to be known as the Joint Committee on ‘Assisted Dying or Assisted Suicide because we shouldn’t have one term leading the way, as it were, or shaping public opinion one way or another”.

He continued: “The other thing is that the wording of the main task of the Joint Committee suggests that we are there to consider and make recommendations for legislative and/or policy change in relation to a statutory right to assist a person to end their life.

“Now, on one reading, that is telling us what we have to do, which is to come up with recommendations for policy change. Are we entitled to recommend against policy change? I think this has been very badly worded, actually. 

“This is an issue which I have written to the Chairperson-designate of the Committee, Mr Michael Healy-Rae TD, about, and I am asking him to get a legal opinion to determine first of all, whether we can change our title to being the Joint Committee on Assisted Dying or Assisted Suicide.

”And secondly, to verify that we in fact do have a free hand as we set about our exploration of the issues, hearing evidence, and to recommend for or against policy or legislative change in this area. It’s vital if there is to be public confidence that our hands are not seen to be tied right from the get-go”.

In a statement sent to Gript, he said this wording could be perceived as leading and should be questioned.

He said: “This wording implies that the Joint Committee must consider and make recommendations for legislative and/or policy change,” Senator Mullen wrote. “This would appear to preclude the possibility that the Joint Committee could recommend against any legislative and/or policy change in this area.”

He pointed out that “similar concerns” had been expressed by the Irish Palliative Medicine Consultants Association (IPMCA) as to whether the scope of action of the Joint Committee had been limited to making recommendations for policy or legislative change if favour of assisted suicide.

“I do not believe that it was the intent of the Oireachtas to determine this matter in advance of the Joint Committee’s deliberations. I am unaware of any policy or other statement of intent by the Government to this effect,” he said.

He also raised his objection to the sole use of the term ‘Assisted Dying’ in the title of the Joint Committee.

“It seems to me that the terms ‘Assisted Dying’ and ‘Assisted Suicide’ are interchangeable in terms of the process that they seek to describe, but each of those two terms would be contested depending on a person’s point of view on the central question about assisting a person to end his/her life,” he said.

“It would therefore be more impartial to term the Committee as a ‘Joint Committee on Assisted Dying/Assisted Suicide’,” the Senator said.

Senator Mullen is now urging Deputy Healy Rae to get these matters clarified in advance of the Committee’s first meeting. The Chairman-designate should “ensure that the Joint Committee has the necessary scope to make recommendations in accordance with the evidence it hears, and with its own deliberations and findings.”

“I do not believe that the public can have any confidence in the work of the Joint Committee if there is any suggestion of a pre-ordained conclusion.”

His comments come as Ireland prepares to host a ‘right to die’ summit next year. In January, it was announced that an international conference of assisted suicide advocates would be held here, hosted by the World Federation of Right to Die Societies – which represents 58 organisations from 30 countries. It will host its biennial conference in Dublin in September 2024, with the event hosted by the advocacy group End of Life Ireland, as debate around the contentious issue continues.

Share mdi-share-variant mdi-twitter mdi-facebook mdi-whatsapp mdi-telegram mdi-linkedin mdi-email mdi-printer mdi-chevron-left Prev Next mdi-chevron-right Related
Comments are closed

Do you agree with the Government's plan to reduce speed limits?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...