Laws giving terminally ill people the right to assisted death need to be a Dáil priority, Junior Minister John Halligan says.
Mr Halligan, who introduced the Dying With Dignity Bill last December, said he would be pushing to have it debated as soon as possible but warned that religious beliefs needed to be left out of the discussions.
“Our elderly populations are living longer, with the result that the rate of chronic illnesses is also on the rise,” he said.
“The need to legislate for dying with dignity, as proposed by this Bill, is also being widely debated across Irish society and opinion polls during the last Dáil estimated that around seven out of 10 Irish voters would be in favour of assisted suicide for people suffering from a terminal illness.
Dáil Éireann needs to enter this debate and, when we do, we need to do leave religious dogma at the door.”
The Independent TD was responding to disclosures in this newspaper by Tom Curran, partner of the late right-to-die campaigner, Marie Fleming, that he assisted her death and also helped others make plans to enable them end their lives if they choose.
Assisting a suicide is a criminal offence punishable by up to 14 years in jail but Mr Curran said his promise to Marie that he would assist her took precedence over the risk of prosecution.
Mr Curran told the Irish Examiner that, two-and-a- half years on from Marie’s death, he remained fearful of a Garda investigation, and he made a plea to the Government to act so that people like him and their loved ones do not have to make plans in secret and in fear.
Mr Halligan, who worked with Mr Curran and legal experts to draft the bill, said in a statement last night that his position had not changed since his inclusion in the Government and promotion to minister of state.
“I remain fully committed to the Dying with Dignity Bill, which proposes the introduction of legislation recognising the right of clearly consenting adults who are enduring intolerable physical suffering to seek medical help to end their lives and includes clear safeguards that the terminally ill person has reached their decision on an informed basis and without coercion or duress. It is my intention to introduce the Bill and have it debated in the Dáil at the earliest available opportunity,” he said.
Earlier, he told RTÉ’s Drivetime he was motivated by the “intolerable suffering” inflicted on Marie and Tom. “We don’t know what’s going to happen to us in a few days or a few months or a few years’ time. We may reach a stage where we’re suffering intolerably,” he said.
“It would be my wish that if I was suffering and it was a progressive illness with no treatment and I was destined to die within about six months, if there wasn’t somebody from the medical profession to help me, I would hope my loved ones would do it for me and not have me in agony so we shouldn’t rush to judgement on people who might help.”
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