Dying with Dignity Bill 2015: First Stage

I move:

That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to make provision for assistance in achieving a dignified and peaceful end of life to qualifying persons and related matters.

This Bill proposes to introduce legislation recognising the right of clearly consenting adults who are enduring intolerable physical suffering to seek medical help to end their lives. It was inspired by the battle of an exceptionally brave Irish woman, the late Marie Fleming, who while in the final stages of multiple sclerosis took a landmark challenge to the Supreme Court on Ireland's legal ban on assisted suicide She lost that battle but the Chief Justice said in the case at that time there was nothing in the judgment to prevent the State from introducing legislative measures with appropriate safeguards to deal with such cases as hers.

This well thought-out Bill contains exactly those safeguards, setting out strictly monitored criteria to allow a person in abnormal suffering to choose a dignified pain-free death surrounded by loved ones, rather than to continue to endure their excruciating torture with no quality of life, often completely incapacitated and in an unconscious state and then to die an horrendous death. We are talking about people who in their most desperate moment of life are being deprived of their humanitarian rights.

I know this issue is a taboo with many Deputies but it is already being debated throughout Europe. Euthanasia or assisted suicide is already legal in Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Switzerland. It is an ethical issue this country will have to address sooner or later. People are living longer with the result that the rate of chronic illness is on the rise. The need to legislate for dying with dignity, as proposed in the Bill, is also being widely debated in Irish society. Various opinion polls during the current Dáil estimate that approximately seven out of ten people would be in favour of assisted suicide for people suffering with a terminal illness. Dáil Éireann must enter the debate and when we do we must leave religious dogma at the door.

I anticipate concerns about the Bill from many Deputies and I wish to make clear that it proposes clear protection for vulnerable people. Two separate medical practitioners are required to examine the qualifying person and sign a valid declaration that their decision is voluntary and they have an incurable and progressive illness which cannot be reversed by treatment and which is likely to lead to their death. A third independent witness, who is not a beneficiary of their estate, must also testify that the person has a clear and settled intention to end their own life when their illness becomes too much to bear. At all times safeguards must be met to show the terminally ill person has reached their decision on an informed basis and without coercion or duress. Furthermore, no doctor will be obliged to participate in an assisted death if he or she has a conscientious objection.

This is a complex, not to mention contentious subject. I welcome debate from all sides when the Bill comes up for discussion. I have spoken to many Deputies on all sides of the House who have spoken about compassion and have told me that if there is a free vote they would consider voting for the Bill. Every one of us strives for, requires and desires a quality of life but we also strive for, require and desire a quality of death. That is what the Bill is about. We should not leave competent human beings to suffer intolerable and horrible pain if the person in question wants to exit this life. Suicide has been decriminalised but we still criminalise a person who assists somebody who is terminally ill to die. That is unfair, inhumane and against the human right of the person who wants to exit this life of their own free will because of immense and intolerable suffering.

If the Bill is debated in the new year I urge Members to show compassion when debating it. As ever, I respect the views of everyone in this House. Everyone has a right to a proper debate and to speak without abuse. My father suffered a stroke eight years ago and had a terrible existence. He was incontinent and he could not swallow. Solid food had to be liquidised and liquids had to be solidified yet he fought to live. People who fight to live and want to survive should be given the opportunity and all the help they require but a small percentage of people are unable to bear the suffering and they also should be allowed to have a dignified death.

Is the Bill opposed?

No. Deputy Halligan's Bill is not opposed.

Question put and agreed to.

Since this is a Private Members' Bill, Second Stage must, under Standing Orders, be taken in Private Members' time.

I move: "That the Bill be taken in Private Members' time."

Question put and agreed to.