March 31, 2024

The long march begins: assisted dying in Ireland

Ireland probably has the most explicitly Christian constitution in the world. Its preamble begins: “In the Name of the Most Holy Trinity, from Whom is all authority and to Whom, as our final end, all actions both of men and States must be referred, We, the people of Éire, Humbly acknowledging all our obligations to our Divine Lord, Jesus Christ, Who sustained our fathers through centuries of trial…”

The constitution was adopted early in the 20th century, in 1937. In the 21st century, the Irish have been chipping away at anachronistic relics of Christian sexual morality in their legislation. Same-sex marriage was adopted in 2015 and abortion was legalised in 2018. The government is working on legalising surrogacy

And now, an all-party parliamentary committee has recommended that assisted dying be legalised for people with a terminal illness – with the usual safeguards. Legal experts believe that legalising the right to die would only require a change in the law and not a constitutional referendum.

The committee’s report will be published next week. 

According to The Guardian, “It is unclear whether the three-party coalition government led by Leo Varadkar is prepared to introduce legislation to enact the recommendation before a general election expected this autumn.” 

The government is licking its wounds after the electorate rebuffed its latest attempt to update the constitution. On March 8, proposals to remove the word “mother” and to redefine the family unit were rejected by a huge majority. An attempt to introduce assisted dying may be premature. 

Professor Desmond O’Neil, a geriatrician, told Irish media that doctors were not in favour of assisted dying. “And in the words of the Danish National Council of Ethics – and again, we often look to Nordic countries for guidance on how to do things smartly – it can neither be regulated nor limited, and it utterly and radically alters how we view caring for each other; how we view disability, ageing, and dying.”