Assisted suicide Bill launched in Ireland

A radical Private Members’ Bill attempting to legalise assisted suicide in the Republic of Ireland has been introduced in the lower house of Ireland’s parliament.

The so-called ‘Dying with Dignity Bill’ was tabled in the Dáil Éireann by People Before Profit TD Gino Kenny on Tuesday 15 September.

Although Kenny’s party only has five members, other parties have indicated they could support the proposed law, with any vote likely to be an issue of conscience.

The ‘Dying with Dignity’ bill was first introduced by TD John Halligan in 2015 but ran out of time when the Irish government was dissolved in 2016.

Analysis by Naoise Graham, Public Affairs Officer at Right To Life UK

There is an abundance of alarming aspects to a radical Bill which lurches far beyond the demands of the assisted suicide campaigners Dignity in Dying in the United Kingdom and the supposedly exemplary legislation of Oregon, USA, which this neighbouring campaign claims to emulate.

Most notably, Gino Kenny’s Bill allows for euthanasia in cases where “it is not possible” for the patient to administer themselves lethal drugs. 

Such actions are expressly forbidden under both the Death with Dignity Act implemented in Oregon in 1997 and the similar proposals of Dignity in Dying.

A host of other provisions illustrate the extremity of the Dying with Dignity Bill even among the radical company of Oregon and Dignity in Dying.

The Oregon law defines terminal illness as expected to “within reasonable medical judgement, produce death within six months”. 

In contrast, the Bill before the Irish Parliament lacks any time limit for terminal illness, only requiring that the patient be ‘likely to die as a result of that illness or complications’ at an unspecified stage.

Whereas Oregon patients supply both written and oral requests for lethal drugs, Kenny’s Bill reduces the procedure to only a single written declaration. 

Similarly, only one witness would be needed to sign off on patient declarations under the radical Irish proposal as opposed to two witnesses under the American legislation of much longer experience. 

Unlike in Oregon, Kenny’s Bill does not stipulate that the patient be recommended to inform their next of kin of their decision.

Under the ‘Dying with Dignity’ Bill, the waiting period between a patient’s declaration to end their own life and the prescription of lethal drugs reduces from fourteen to six days in cases where death from a terminal illness is deemed likely to occur within a month. 

In contrast, the Oregon system of assisted suicide only collapses the 15-day waiting period if death from a terminal illness is likely to occur within that period.

Whereas the Death with Dignity Act in Oregon insists that any informed decision must involve consideration of “feasible alternatives, including, but not limited to, comfort care, hospice care and pain control”, Gino Kenny’s ‘Dying with Dignity’ Bill fails to detail the mandatory information for patients beyond the simple mention of “the available choices”. 

Perhaps most strikingly, the ‘Dying with Dignity’ Bill makes no reference to the possibility of psychological or psychiatric evaluation in case of potentially impaired judgement on the part of the patient. This represents a disturbing distinction with Oregon where the physicians are obliged to refer such patients for counselling.

‘Wrong in principle’

The latest proposal to allow assisted suicide has been criticised by palliative care doctors, geriatricians, politicians and pro-life campaigners.

Columnist and head of the Dublin-based Ioana Institute, David Quinn, condemned the Bill for being both “wrong in principle” and for having “incredibly far-reaching” proposals which go further than other countries that allow assisted suicide.

“For example, the definition of ‘terminal illness’ is so broad it could include dementia. It does not require that a person be within a set period of death such as six months. Therefore, the person could be in the early stages of a terminal illness with years of life remaining and still ask a doctor for a lethal drug. They only have to make the request once,” he told Crux.

No proper protection for conscience rights

In addition to David’s concerns, the bill would force healthcare professionals who have a conscientious objection to assisted suicide to make “arrangements for the transfer of care of the qualifying person”, a form of participation that goes against an individual’s conscience rights.

This is especially worrying for the hospice movement, which cares for patients near the end of their lives and is philosophically opposed to euthanasia.

In stark contrast, the archetypal Death with Dignity Act in Oregon does not require healthcare professionals to transfer such patients but only to transfer their records once the patients have themselves located a new provider.

‘A better option’

Professor Anthony O’Brien, a Clinical Professor of Palliative Medicine at University College Cork with over 35 years of experience in hospice care, has spoken out against the Bill, telling The Irish Times:

“I have met very many patients who in desperation asked to have their life ended, believing that they had no other option. With good palliative care, the overwhelming majority had occasion to change their minds. With suicide, there is no going back.

“Surely a compassionate society can be more creative in its response to human suffering than premature, self-inflicted death. Good care is always a better option.”

‘Regressive step’

Hope Ireland, a coalition of healthcare professionals and disability rights advocates, says the introduction of assisted suicide and euthanasia is a “regressive step for vulnerable people – particularly the elderly and those with disabilities”.

In their briefing document, which was sent to all of Ireland’s TDs, they highlight how the operation of similar laws in other countries have shown the consequences of legalisation are “catastrophic” for older people and people with disabilities.

For example, they state:  “In 2019, a woman with dementia who revoked her consent to be euthanised had to be held down by her family whilst the doctor ended her

life. A Dutch court approved this practice, and acquitted the doctor of any wrongdoing.”

Negative culture change

Peadar Tóibín, the leader of the pro-life Aontú party, has warned that in countries that have introduced physician-assisted suicide or euthanasia, “pressure starts to grow on older people and people with severe disabilities.”

So much so that countries such as Canada, Netherlands and Belgium have seen the number avail of assisted suicide radically increase,” he told News Letter.

“These countries initially introduced assisted suicide for a small number of really difficult cases but have now seen the numbers increase nine and ten-fold. Requests for euthanasia are extremely rare before it’s made legal but radically increase when the culture changes,” Tóibín continued.

He also said the bill could “radically change” the direction of the medical profession from the saving of life to ending it.

“We urge the government to assist people with living. To invest the necessary resources to ensure that people who are faced with difficult death have all the supports that they need to make for final journey as comfortable and pain free as humanly possible. We need to improve our palliative care and our health service but euthanasia is not the solution to the failings in our health system,” he said.

Ireland’s Government spent almost €3 million on medical abortion in 2019

Ireland’s Health Service Executive (HSE) spent €2.9 million providing medical abortions through GPs in 2019, it has been revealed.

The figure, which was provided to Carol Nolan TD in response to a parliamentary question, only represents abortions that took place in the first nine weeks of pregnancy or in a community setting.

It does not include surgical abortions, which only occur in hospital settings beyond nine weeks or medical terminations provided through a hospital.

Staggering costs

Nolan told Gript the figure was “staggering”, especially considering that “an almost equal amount of funding (€3.1million) was allocated for the implementation of the entire National Women and Infants Health Programme (NWIHP) in 2019”.

The independent Laois-Offaly TD continued: “When you put this information, and the recent annual report on the number of abortions that took place in 2019 together, what we now have is an emerging sense of how much abortion is going to ‘cost’ in terms of the loss of human life and the financial resources that could be better spent at the community level”.

“It is also clear however that the fees of €2.9 million do not represent anything like the true financial cost because that number only refers to abortions which took place at 9 weeks or under in a community setting. It takes no account of the costs associated with the delivery of abortion ‘services’ beyond 9 weeks and which have to take place in our maternity hospitals.”

Pro-life group, Life Institute, said that the size of the payment showed the government priority was funding abortion rather than supporting women.

“These numbers show that some doctors are literally making a killing from the new abortion regime,” the Life Institute said.

“GPs are being paid almost twice as much to provide an abortion than they would make from caring for a woman in pregnancy, and for some doctors, abortion is clearly a profitable undertaking.”

6,666 abortions in 2019

According to official figures, a total of 6,666 abortions were carried out in Ireland last year.

It is the first full year figures have been available, following a 66% vote to repeal the Eighth Amendment in a 2018 referendum. Abortion services in Ireland commenced on 1 January 2019.

Official figures from the UK Department of Health and Social Care show an additional 375 abortions took place in England and Wales last year where a Republic of Ireland address was provided. In addition, 67 of the abortions that took place in Ireland in 2019 were for women from Northern Ireland. 

It means the total number of abortions in 2019 for Irish resident women that were performed in Ireland, England and Wales was 6,974.

In 2018, before new abortion legislation was introduced to Ireland, the number of abortions that took place in England and Wales for women who are Irish residents was 2,879.

Over 40,000 participate in Ireland’s Rally for Life

More than 40,000 people streamed Ireland’s Rally for Life last week, according to organisers of the event, who are now aiming to grow that audience tenfold in the coming weeks.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, this year’s Rally for Life took place online, with 34 local and socially-distanced rallies taking place across the country before the livestream began.

Across the country hundreds of people took part in socially-distanced pro-life displays, carrying signs reading “united for life” and “abortion is a pandemic”.

The Rally for Life Committee, who are hoping to keep up that momentum despite the move online, told Gript: “Having 40,000 people tune in live to the Rally Fest shows just how alive and vibrant the pro-life community is, and how powerful the message for Life can be.

“We had lots of families watching in groups so the numbers watching are likely even bigger, but we’re thrilled to have had a minimum of 40,000 people joining in the live events.

“Now, the plan is to grow that tenfold, reaching 300,000 or 400,000 people watching the live events online. It would mean the Rally effect could continue throughout the whole summer, cutting right through lockdown with a clear compelling pro-life message.”

Before COVID-19 caused many parts of the world to go into ‘lockdown’, pro-life demonstrations were seeing record attendance numbers, including in Ireland.

In 2018, up to 100,000 people took part in Ireland’s largest pro-life rally urging people to defend the right to life ahead of a major referendum on whether or not the country should introduce abortion legislation.

Sadly, months after that rally, 66% of people voted in favour of repealing the Eighth Amendment. As a result, abortion ‘services’ commenced on 1 January 2019.

Last month, it was revealed a total of 6,666 abortions were carried out in Ireland in 2019.

Earlier this year, hundreds of thousands of people attended the US March for Life, a record-breaking 9,000 people attended the March for Life in Chicago, Illinois, and over 8,000 people gathered for the Celebrate Life rally in Denver, Colorado carrying signs that read, “Civil rights begin in the womb” and “I am the pro-life generation.”

In 2019, over 50,000 Slovakians called on the country’s leaders to protect unborn babies. Pro-life demonstrations in Northern Ireland have reached over 20,000 people, while over 11,000 marched for life in the Netherlands, and over 2,000 people attended New Zealand’s March for Life.

6,666 abortions carried out in Ireland under new legislation last year

A total of 6,666 abortions were carried out in Ireland last year, according to official figures

It is the first full year figures have been available, following a 66% vote to repeal the Eighth Amendment in a 2018 referendum. Abortion services in Ireland commenced on 1 January 2019.

Official figures from the UK Department of Health and Social Care, show an additional 375 abortions took place in England and Wales last year where a Republic of Ireland address was provided. Meanwhile, 67 of the abortions that took place in Ireland in 2019 were for women from Northern Ireland, taking the number of abortions for Irish resident women in Ireland to 6,599. 

The total number of abortions, in 2019, for Irish resident women that were performed in Ireland, England and Wales was 6,974.

Before new abortion legislation was introduced to Ireland, in 2018, the number of abortions that took place in England and Wales for women who are Irish residents was 2,879. A further 32 abortions were reported to have taken place in Ireland under the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act, taking the total number of abortions for Ireland residents to 2,911.

It means that the total number of abortions that have taken place for Irish resident women in England, Wales and Ireland recorded in official statistics has increased from 2,911 to 6,794 since the legislation was introduced to Ireland – this represents an additional 3,883 abortions, an increase of 133%.

Between tomorrow and Saturday (31 June – 4 July) tens of thousands of people are expected to stream Ireland’s Rally for Life events, which has the theme United for Life.

A spokesperson for Right to Life UK, Catherine Robinson said:

“It is a tragedy for Ireland that 6,666 lives were lost to abortion in 2019. Every one of these abortions represents a failure to protect the lives of babies in the womb and a failure to offer full support to women with unplanned pregnancies. 

“Abortion campaigners claimed before the referendum that introducing abortion to Ireland would make no difference to abortion numbers. These official figures show how untrue this claim was with a very large increase in the number of abortions taking place for women who are Irish residents.”