The time available is 75 minutes in total. The first 15 minutes go to the proposer and the next 15 minutes to the Government. It is up to Members whether they want to use less time than allocated but there is no chance of my being able to accommodate all Members who have put their names forward. I count seven. I will do what I can to accommodate everybody but we will have to make fairly serious progress. There will be only half an hour excluding the proposer's contribution, the Minister's response and the wind-up at the end.
Dying with Dignity Bill 2020: Second Stage [Private Members]
I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
I wish to share my time with Deputies Barry and Boyd Barrett.
I am thankful for the opportunity to have this debate. It is an important debate not only in this Chamber but also in the State itself. I wish to remember Marie Fleming, whose life ended seeking legislative change in regard to assisted dying in Ireland. Marie's incredible bravery and the fight she brought to the highest court in the land brought national attention to the most profound decision anybody could make. Her decision was to leave on her own terms, not in pain, not alone, but in dignity and surrounded by the ones she loved. Her life lives on. Her memory lives on. If she were here at this moment, she would be willing us all on to do the right thing. I thank Tom Curran, Marie Fleming's partner, Gail O'Rourke and Vicky Phelan for their input over the past five weeks. I want to thank Vicky especially for her support and for speaking candidly about the issue over recent weeks. Whatever the outcome next Wednesday, this issue can no longer be shunned away.
The Bill has 15 Parts. The Bill would change the law in Ireland and help terminally ill people to control their own death when they decide their suffering is no longer bearable. At present, it is illegal for doctors and medical professionals to help terminally ill people in unbearable pain to end their own lives. This Bill would change that. Some people suffering from a terminal illness that will inevitably result in death face losing control over their lives and may have conditions that no longer respond to palliative care. The Bill would allow a person, who must be over 18 and suffering from a terminal illness, to make a declaration to two independent medical professionals requesting assistance to end his or her life. A third individual, an independent witness, must be present. The person seeking assistance must be diagnosed as having an incurable and progressive illness that cannot be reversed by treatment. The medical professionals must be sure the person has the capacity to make a rational choice and is fully aware of the alternatives, such as palliative care. Fourteen days after the process, the medical practitioner can administer substances to the person to assist in his or her passing. This Bill has safeguards and protections to ensure the person seeking help can make a decision independently and not under duress of any kind.
This Bill does not allow for assisted dying in cases where a person looking for help does not suffer from a terminal illness. People suffering from depression or any mental health issues could not access this law. People suffering from life-threatening physical illnesses could not avail of assisted dying. People of advanced age could not avail of this law. It applies only to those suffering from a terminal illness and only to adults with full mental capacity and who are able to make a rational and conversant decision about their lives.
Opponents of assisted dying say it would lead to a slippery slope, whereby the value of human life would be diminished. They fear vulnerable groups, such as the elderly and disabled, will be pressurised into assisted dying because they feel they are a burden on society. In fact, in the countries and regions where laws have been changed to help people, there is no evidence that this has ever happened. Oregon, for example, has had a similar law since 1997 and none of these trends has been observed. Other regions and countries have had the same experience, namely, Colorado, California, Washington, Montana, Vermont, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Belgium, Canada, Luxemburg and certain states in Australia.
We want better supports and care for our elderly and those with disabilities. We want greater resources for hospice care and palliative care but there is no contradiction in supporting these and the right of people coming to the end of their lives who are suffering from unbearable pain.
Some opponents of this legislation have used completely inappropriate language to conflate suicide and voluntary assisted dying. It is wholly inappropriate and irresponsible to use this kind of language. I ask Deputies to reflect on their positions and desist from using such language.
I understand that the Government is tabling an amendment to this Bill. As I stated a number of days ago, this will unduly delay the Bill's progression to pre-legislative scrutiny. I do not understand why it has to go to an all-party committee because it has been discussed at length, even by an all-party Oireachtas committee on equality and justice two and a half years ago. I do not see why the Bill has to go down the route the Government would have it go down. I do not doubt the sincerity of the Minister and other Deputies in the Government benches but I doubt the rationale for unduly delaying the Bill with the amendment.
This debate is extremely difficult for everybody, regardless of their views. All voices and opinions should be taken into account but the most important voice in the debate is that of a person with a terminal illness who does not want to go through unbearable pain. He or she should have a choice. This Bill is about giving a choice to people facing unbearable pain. We should support them and not vilify them.
Let me refer to a lady called Gaynor French, who passed away a number of years ago. I will always remember an article of hers in the Irish Examiner. I read it today again. It contains a statement that says everything about this very important issue: "I have lived with dignity. I want to die with dignity."
I commend Deputy Gino Kenny on introducing the Dying with Dignity Bill 2020. He has put a great effort into it, as have all who have worked with him, some of whom have campaigned for many years to get to this point and ensure people have the right to make a decision on the end of their life and to have their life end with dignity in the way they choose. It is very disappointing that the Government has tabled an amendment. It is wholly unnecessary. It is very unfortunate that it has used the phrase "assisted suicide" because I do not believe it captures at all what we are talking about. It conjures up very different notions. What we are talking about is people who, like pretty much all of us, have wanted to live but whose choice about living is taken from them at the end, often in really awful circumstances. It is a question of whether life should end on their terms and whether they should have a choice about how their life should end so they can die with the utmost dignity and with as little pain and suffering as possible.
I do not understand why anybody would want to deny people whose choice to live is taken away from them by illness, which illness is certain to end their life, the right to choose the terms on which that should happen in order to minimise the pain and suffering, physical and spiritual, that they undergo in those circumstances. I do not see why anyone would do that. In some cases - it is not an exaggeration to say this - to deny them that right is to torture them. It is literally putting them through excruciating, unbearable suffering and hardship against their will. That is a form of torture in an already difficult situation. Why would we want to do that to somebody? What right has anybody to deny a person the right to decide the terms on which his or her life should end when his or her life is certain to end?
Society has moved on from the days when people in the State or the church or from some moral code they held thought they could dictate to other people how they should live their lives. I thought we had moved past that. It seems, however, that with the delaying tactics, we are bending to the will of people who want to hold back that progress in Irish society. There is no justification for it. There are, for example, no constitutional issues arising. As the Supreme Court stated in 2012 that there were no constitutional issues, what do we need to consider? The matter has been discussed before in committee. If this Bill passes Second Stage, it will be discussed again in an all-party committee. All the Government needs to do is allow this Bill go to the next Stage where it will get all-party consideration. If the Government wants to set up other parallel processes that can be done as well but there is no reason to delay the Bill. Every moment of delay means that a small number of people - this is about only a small number of people - may suffer unnecessarily. Why would we do anything that would allow that to happen? I appeal to the Government to withdraw its amendment and to allow this Bill to proceed in order that we can have a mature discussion about the legislation and, hopefully, get it enacted soon, to make a difficult and tragic situation for many people a little less unbearable and cruel.
The two previous speakers, my colleagues, made points about pain and people who die in pain. I want to speak about the people who are facing into an undignified death without control of their bodies or bodily functions and who make the choice to leave this world in a different way, namely, voluntary assisted death. If I had a terminal illness, getting progressively worse, and I was facing an undignified death would I want a choice in that situation? Yes, I would want to be able to say that if I am leaving this world, I am doing so on my terms and not on the terms dictated to me by an illness that is outside of my control. I also would want to make sure that the loved one or friend I reached out to and asked to help me in that situation would not face legal consequences, which is currently the position here.
We know the example of Gail O'Rourke, who helped her friend, Bernadette. On behalf of Bernadette, she went to the travel agent to pick up the tickets for the flight to Switzerland to Dignitas, where Bernadette hoped to have a dignified death, only to be met by the Garda, brought to Rathmines Garda station and later before the courts facing the possibility of 14 years' imprisonment. Gail did not go to jail but the possibility was hanging over her. This shows it is not a case of this practice being introduced into this county. It already exists in this country and has done for years but it is illegal. It is wrong that it is illegal. It should be legal. It should be put in proper legal context and people should have the right to die in dignity.
I must adhere to time. The Government side has 15 minutes. Anybody who wishes to concede time may do so as there are a number of Deputies offering. Exclusive of the time for the Government response, there are nine speakers remaining, sharing 30 minutes.
I move amendment No. 1:
To delete all words after “That” and substitute the following:
— acknowledges that assisted suicide is a very complex issue which gives rise to medical, ethical and moral issues, as well as criminal justice and constitutional issues;
— acknowledges the sincere and humanitarian objectives of the Dying with Dignity Bill 2020 to minimise human suffering and distress at the end of life;
— acknowledges the vital public interest in protecting persons who are nearing the end of their lives and who might be vulnerable and at risk of abuse;
— notes that the Supreme Court has found that there is no constitutional right to commit suicide or to arrange for the ending of one’s life at a time of one’s choosing, and that the prohibition on assisted suicide was not discriminatory and was not contrary to the European Convention on Human Rights;
— resolves that the Bill be deemed to be read a second time this day twelve months, to allow for scrutiny between now and then by a specially established Oireachtas Joint Committee in order to consider submissions and hold hearings that have regard in particular to:
— consideration of the medical, ethical and moral issues, as well as criminal justice and constitutional issues which arise;
— examination of the issues identified by the High Court in relation to developing and policing safeguards, which are needed to ensure that a qualifying person is not subjected to any pressure by any third parties;
— consideration of how unintended consequences that create any adverse impact on vulnerable persons could be avoided;
— consideration of the safeguards found in the regulatory regimes prevailing in jurisdictions such as Switzerland, the Netherlands and certain US states, such as Washington and Oregon, which have legislated in this area;
— consideration of what role or what legal rights a family member should have in the process and what role the legal profession or those with a function under law in supporting decision-making or making decisions on a person’s behalf should have in relation to the process; and
— consideration of any issues of a constitutional nature that might arise; and
— fully discuss and explore other practical issues and consequences that may arise as a result of the proposals, and for the Oireachtas Joint Committee duly established to publish a report setting out its recommendations, to be considered further by this House."
I thank Deputy Gino Kenny for bringing forward this legislation. I acknowledge it reflects a sincere and humanitarian objective to minimise suffering and distress at the end of life. We all know someone who has died in this way, in distress and pain, and we would not wish for ourselves or for anybody else. No matter what way we look at it, assisting someone to die is a very complex issue, medically, ethically and morally. It also gives rise to criminal justice and constitutional issues. Consideration also needs to be given to the vital public interest in protecting persons who are nearing the end of their lives and who might be vulnerable and at risk of abuse. I do not suggest this applies in every case. In legislating for the complex issue, Ireland would become one of only a small number of countries in the world to legislate for assisted dying. We are not currently an outlier in this regard.
In my speech this evening, I will deal with a number of issues, including the existing law in this country, the changes proposed in this Bill, the issue of safeguards and the Government amendment and the merits of detailed consideration by a special Oireachtas committee and the need for a wider public debate on this issue. On the existing law, it is an offence under the Criminal Law (Suicide) Act 1993 to assist another person in taking his or her life. Prosecution of the offence can result in a term of imprisonment of up to 14 years. The constitutionality of the legislation was upheld by the Supreme Court in its judgment in the Marie Fleming case on 29 April 2013. The court held - I am using its language - that there is no constitutional right to commit suicide or to arrange for the ending of one's life at a time of one's choosing. The court also found that the prohibition on assisted suicide was not discriminatory and was not contrary to the European Convention on Human Rights. The courts have said that while it is open to the Oireachtas to legislate in this area, it would be a matter for the courts to consider if whatever the Oireachtas may propose, if it proposes change at all, is constitutionally permissible.
The Private Members' Bill before us would decriminalise, subject to certain conditions and safeguards, assisting the death of a terminally ill person. As Deputy Kenny outlined, the Bill provides a number of safeguards, including that the process is medically-led and that the person must be terminally ill. That is why we have a joint response this evening from the Departments of Justice and Equality and Health.
In terms of the safeguards, it is clear that if the House is to legislate in this area, the competing interests of the individual will have to be balanced with the wider public interest in safeguarding people who are nearing the end of their lives and who might be vulnerable and at risk of abuse. The High Court has made a number of comments in relation to the development and policing of safeguards. The court held:
But such might well be the unintended effect of such a change, specifically because of the inability of even the most rigorous system of legislative checks and balances to ensure, in particular, that the aged, the disabled, the poor, the unwanted, the rejected, the lonely, the impulsive, the financially compromised and the emotionally vulnerable would not disguise their own personal preferences and elect to hasten death so as to avoid a sense of being a burden on family and society. The safeguards built into any liberalised system would, furthermore, be vulnerable to laxity and complacency and might well prove difficult or even impossible to police adequately.
There is a vital public interest in protecting vulnerable persons, which all Members wish to ensure, and it is important that the Oireachtas takes its time to consider the proposed law and safeguards.
In terms of the next steps, the timed amendment I am proposing to the motion proposes that we take the necessary time to consider what are complex issues. It would mean that the Bill would be read a Second Time 12 months hence - this is not an attempt to delay - and that a special joint Oireachtas committee would be established to consider this matter in detail. This committee would be established very soon. Among the issues the special committee would be asked to consider, and this is not conclusive, would be: the medical, ethical and moral issues, as well as criminal justice and constitutional issues which arise; the issues identified by the High Court regarding developing and policing safeguards, which are needed to ensure that a qualifying person is not subjected to any pressure by any third parties; how unintended consequences that create any adverse impact on vulnerable persons could be avoided; the safeguards found in the regulatory regimes prevailing in jurisdictions such as Switzerland, the Netherlands and certain US states, such as Washington and Oregon, which have legislated in this area; what role or legal rights a family member should or could have in the process; and what role the legal profession or those with a function under law in supporting decision-making or making decisions on a person's behalf should have in the process.
The Oireachtas justice and equality committee of the previous Dáil examined the issue of assisted dying, but I understand it did not go into the detail that we would like. While it did not come to a conclusion on whether legislative change is required, it raised a number of questions which need to be answered if change is to be considered. I hope that the new special Oireachtas committee, if approved, will take up these questions. The new committee would report back to this House within 12 months with recommendations. The subject of assisted dying is complex and cannot be rushed. A special Oireachtas committee is best placed to ensure that there is full consideration of the issues which arise in this Bill. That is why I ask Deputies to support the countermotion I am proposing. It will also give all Members, as well as the general public, the time to consider the fundamental questions and detail of what is being proposed.
On the Bill specifically, there are a number of legal and technical issues which require much greater consideration. These include the implications the law would have for other countries which could regard such assistance as on offence, notwithstanding that it takes place outside of their territories. While the legislation allows for conscientious objection, many doctors would equally have an objection to an imposed duty to transfer and enable the death of a patient. That section, if enacted, would be likely to be the subject of legal challenge. We have other concerns as well.
The question being asked of the House in this Bill could not be of more fundamental importance. It is asking us to consider whether we should legislate to allow some of our citizens who have a terminal illnesses to choose to end their lives. The past decade has seen this country make a series significant social changes in a relatively short period. We do not need to recount the old arguments today, but on every occasion each of us took positions which were sincerely held and honestly argued. However, the decisions we made, from that relating to the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act to those in respect of the referendums to usher in marriage equality and repeal the eighth amendment, followed years of debate. Once again, debate on a profound social issue cannot be confined to the Chambers and committee rooms of the Oireachtas. Deputy Gino Kenny's Bill, and the Government's countermotion establishing an Oireachtas committee, will hopefully lead to a wider public debate on the merits, consequences and implications of assisted dying.
Furthermore, each side of the debate must try to respect the opposite point of view. Those who will argue for assisted dying must respect people who feel that it devalues other lives, such as those of our citizens who have life limiting conditions. Opposition to assisted dying must also acknowledge that advocates for change are motivated by compassion and care for their fellow citizens. I refer to Michael Nugent. Mr. Nugent came before the Oireachtas justice and equality committee of the previous Oireachtas to speak about his late wife Anne, who had medication available to her which would have ended her life. He said:
Anne died naturally, as do most people who make these preparations. It is not about the act of dying, it is about the peace of mind one has while one is still alive of knowing one can avoid unnecessary suffering if one has to.
There are deeply held views and worries on both sides. As we open the debate this evening, I ask that mutual respect is maintained in the Oireachtas and across the country generally.
I commend Deputy Gino Kenny on bringing this Bill before the House. I appreciate the comments of Members so far and the Minister's response. A decision on whether to change the law and on how best this can be done if there is a decision to change it, cannot and should not be rushed. I am glad the Minister referred to the significant societal changes that have happened in the past and that were finalised in this House. They were not instigated here, but in kitchens, living rooms and coffee shops around the country. The journey this House and its Members went on with those profound societal changes, such as marriage equality and the repeal of the eighth amendment, might not have suited everybody, but the majority of people supported them and those decisions were finalised in this House.
Deputy Gino Kenny referred to the previous Oireachtas committee. I served on the committees of the Thirty-first and Thirty-second Dáileanna, and I can say with certainty that the work of all-party Oireachtas special committees on profound moral and societal issues was deserving of the careful and methodical deliberation on the part of Members of the House. This Bill raises profound emotive questions of morality and ethics. I accept the position the Deputy has adopted regarding his wish genuinely to assist people in what can only be described as a tragic and painful situation. In that vein, he said he accepted the bona fides of the Government parties in proposing a counter motion. I suggest that the Deputy ask the Department of Justice and Equality, perhaps through a parliamentary question, to speculate on how long it would take the Parliamentary Counsel in that Department and in the Department of Health to take a Bill from Second Stage through to the Fifth Stage. I will confer with the Minister later, but I believe that nine months is probably conservative. I say that as a former member of the justice committees of the Thirty-first and Thirty-second Dáileanna.
As the Minister said, there are questions about certain parts of the Bill which could be problematic. For that reason as well, further consideration should be given to it. I listened to "Drivetime" on a podcast recently while I was driving home. I listened to the member of the public the Deputy mentioned, whose name is Bernadette. I was aware of this prior to that as I had heard from a few correspondents about it, but not many. I must say that this has the potential to be another one of those journeys we have all been on in the last number of years because it is a profoundly personal question that is currently not answered by the law. It is prohibited by the law. However, Bernadette's story of trying to assist a friend and being arrested at the door of a travel agent for doing so resonated with me. I was left with time to think as I drove.
Something as profound as this should not be rushed. It will require all of us to listen carefully to experts, who we will not have access to in the same way as we will with an all-party committee holding hearings such as those that took place in the past. Perhaps some will change their views, in either direction, but perhaps a majority of members will decide that this is something they will support and the Bill may progress further. There is no reason that it will take the full 12 months for the committee to be established and report, albeit there are difficulties with meeting for more than two hours and so forth. I am sure there are ways such a committee can be constructed to expedite its element of the work.
I finish as I started, by commending the Deputy on bringing the Bill forward.
It is something we should consider carefully . That consideration can really only take place in the forum we have used in the past. It would be worthy of all Members to take the time to consider the countermotion and the sentiments expressed by the Minister for Justice and Equality before they make their decision to either stop this from proceeding further or to attempt to adopt a Bill which, I believe. will not be passed by the House.
Now we come to an interesting time. We have eight speakers and 30 minutes. The speakers are Deputies Cullinane, Martin Kenny, Kelly, Fitzpatrick, Tóibín, Mattie McGrath, Shortall and Nolan, in that order. I will try to accommodate everybody in so far as I can. It is a matter for the Deputies to be willing to share time or not. Deputy Bríd Smith has indicated that she wishes to come in at the end. That is fine. First is Deputy Cullinane, who has ten minutes. The Deputy can share time if he wishes.
I thank the Acting Chairman for the advice. I commend Deputy Gino Kenny on moving this Bill and ensuring that we have this important and, in many ways, historic debate. I also commend the former Minister of State, John Halligan, who, as people know, had done a significant amount of work on this issue, as well as all the campaigners Deputy Gino Kenny mentioned, who have been doing a lot of work on this issue, understanding its complexity and advocating their position from a compassionate perspective.
For obvious reasons, it is important that we are clear on what the Bill does. It is a divisive Bill in the sense that there are opposing views. I am respectful of all of the views and opinions. Personally, I am in favour of this Bill and of the principle behind it. However, I also understand that there are people in this House and outside it who have genuine and legitimate concerns that need to be responded to.
The Bill provides for assisted dying in the event of terminal illness only. Assisted dying would only be permitted after assessment by the attending medical practitioner and an independent medical practitioner. Before countersigning a patient's declaration, they must verify that the patient is terminally ill, has the capacity to make the decision to end his or her own life and has a clear and settled intention to end his or her life which was reached voluntarily, on an informed basis, without coercion or duress. There is a clause in the Bill which protects conscientious objectors, and rightly so, providing that no medical practitioner would be obliged to provide assisted dying. There are amendments I would want to make to the Bill. These relate to a waiting period for reflection, psychiatric evaluations, hearing more from experienced medical practitioners and confirmation that criteria are met by a High Court judge, a medical person and a layperson. There are amendments that I would make to this Bill and my party will make. I also accept that we need proper scrutiny of this Bill. While I will support the Private Member's Bill and oppose the Government's amendment, if there is a special committee set up, of course it should do its job. We all have to be responsible and compassionate in how we approach this issue. My party and I will certainly play our part in all of that.
I want to make a point that is very personal. I have heard some people already make the argument that somehow this will undermine palliative care. Assisted dying is not a replacement for palliative care. In January 2018, my mam went for what she thought was a routine test. She went on her own to a hospital. Unfortunately, she got bad news that she most likely had cancer. Within a couple of weeks of getting that news, she ended up in St. James's Hospital and had most of her stomach removed. She fought a long battle over a number of months. My family and her friends followed and supported her in that battle every step of the way. Every single day was a battle. In November 2018, we thought she was through the worst of it but the cancer was still there and it was growing. She ended up back in St. James's Hospital and was there for five or six weeks. She could not eat. We had a fair idea what was happening but we were hoping it was something that could be dealt with. On Christmas Eve 2018, she went for surgery. I remember I was putting my two kids to bed on Christmas Eve when I got a phone call to say she was dying, the cancer was back and she had a few short weeks to live. I immediately got into the car, drove to the hospital and saw my mam. I had spoken to her on the phone before she went for her surgery and she was full of hope. The first thing I noticed was that the life was gone out of her, I could see it in her eyes. It was obviously an awful experience. It was in a very small hospital room. She was eventually transferred to a palliative care unit. We did not have one in either Waterford or the south east at the time. The unit was in Harold's Cross. She got absolutely tremendous care. They did every single thing that was humanly possibly to make sure that she did not die in pain. That was the one thing she kept saying to us. She was very brave all the way through. I am sure people have their own experiences and similar stories. My mam did not want to die in pain. The staff did absolutely everything.
There are, however, people for whom palliative care simply does not do that because of the nature of the illness. That is the point. Then it is a matter of personal choice. We should face up to that. We can name the diseases although I am not going to name them. There are people who have those diseases who would make a decision not to end their lives, even if the legislation was there. That is the case and should be respected. Equally, there are people who would make a different choice if they were in that situation and were facing into what we can only describe as a horrible death. There should absolutely have to be safeguards to protect vulnerable people, make sure individuals make this decision voluntarily and that it is done in the most sensitive and compassionate way and in the most legally sound way, with all of the advice that can be possibly given and with a cooling off period. In those circumstances, compassion and humanity tell me that we should allow people to have that opportunity and that choice.
I know that is going to be difficult for some people and that this debate is going to be difficult. I genuinely hope that this debate does not turn into what we have seen with previous debates on issues that were, perhaps, similar. Notwithstanding differences I will have with some people in this Chamber, I sincerely understand their point of view and that it raises moral and ethical issues. People have already contacted me. We are all being lobbied by individuals with different views and perspectives. I will oppose the Government's amendment but not because I do not believe there should be scrutiny or full examination. I agree with Deputy Farrell when he says that this will take time. It should take time if we are sincere about this. I am of the view that the author of the Bill is sincere about it. He has said he wants scrutiny of and proper debate on this issue. If we are sincere about it, we have to give it the time it deserves. I am glad it is the Oireachtas doing it and not the Citizens' Assembly. I am not against the Citizens' Assembly but we are the legislators. We are elected to Dáil Éireann and we have to make decisions. Ultimately, the people who make the decisions are the ones who should carry out the scrutiny. We are the ones who should conduct the discussions on this issue. I want to hear from everybody. I want to hear all views. I will go in with an open mind. I have already seen that this is not as black and white as sometimes we can make it. There are grey areas and we have to accept that. It is not going to be straightforward. A lot of work will need to be done.
In that spirit, I commend the author of the Bill. I genuinely want to speak to those people who have done a huge amount of work on this issue over the past number of years, those who have lost loved ones and those who have battled in the to the courts to get this issue dealt with.
The fact we are debating it here today is a step forward, even if the Government amendment is passed and even if there is a committee that takes longer than some of us might like. It is a big, genuine and good step forward on this issue. The tone in which I wish to see the debate conducted is a passionate and understanding one that reflects the diversity of opinions and views and that whatever we settle on will be settled upon. Therefore, let us have that debate over the next number of months. I certainly look forward to engaging with people in this Chamber and outside it.
The next speaker on the list is Deputy Martin Kenny. He has ten minutes.
I will share a few minutes with Deputy Shortall at the end.
The Dying with Dignity Bill clearly comes from a place of compassion. We all recognise this. There is no sinister agenda or malice behind it. There are, of course, moral and emotional minefields to be negotiated to arrive at a consensus between two ends of a spectrum of opinion. One is that the taking of life is always wrong and assisting in taking a life is even more wrong. The other opinion is that everyone has the right to do with his or her life what he or she wishes when it comes to ending his or her life.
Sinn Féin, in recognising this issue needs a detailed, deep and compassionate analysis by this House and by the Seanad, supports the passage of this Bill to Committee Stage. When it reaches Committee Stage, it should be extensively and comprehensively scrutinised with regard to the sensitivities of the issues and, as has become clearer since the Bill was published again recently, the lack of consensus among citizens regarding the right of any individual to end their life or not, no matter what the consequences.
We will have to seek evidence, testimony and advice from the full spectrum of opinion and expertise on the matter and the nation must feel the pre-legislative scrutiny of this Bill was accessible and reasonable. Within this scrutiny, there must be thorough, intelligent, informed and compassionate exploration of the logistics of any assistance to be offered to those who might choose to take that ultimate step of ending their own lives. There must be an examination of the consequences and further consequences, the hard and painful cases and the suffering that may be relieved or, indeed, inflicted through all of this and it must all be viewed with clarity.
The nub of them matter is that no one is an island. For every person who might decide to end his or her life, for reasons that seem logical and reasonable and justified to him or herself, there are lovers, spouses, children, close family members, religious advisers, support groups and friends who are, through that relationship, involved in the action of ending the human life as well. Indeed, we as a society, and those of us elected to represent that society as lawmakers, must take on the consideration and passage or not of this Bill as the huge responsibility it is.
There are many people who, when one talks to them, believe it is permissible for people with a terminal diagnosis to die by choice. Some may even call that a right. From there comes the argument that if a person has such a right, then he or she has the right to enlist the assistance of others. That is what is legally difficult. It is also counter-intuitive, is sad and painful and is hard for us to agree. I have not, however, met a single person who has watched a loved one die slowly and in pain who did not wish, at some stage, he or she was able to help that loved one to die sooner. That is a long way from the fear that the choice of assisted dying would become preferable to families of vulnerable older people in comparison to the payment for their care in homes for many years. That brings in the issue of hospices and palliative care and the need for more and better services in that regard.
If we agree that the right to die is to be vindicated, do we then automatically acquire a responsibility to assist someone to take his or her own life? It is never black and white. We know this. Like every other moral issue, there are times we feel one way and occasions when we feel another. The rationality of the decision is a major issue and, of course, there must be some strong safeguards against assisting in the death of those who cannot make a rational decision on the matter. There are questions that must be asked of everyone contemplating this hard option and anyone contemplating assisting such people, especially the terminally ill. Is it an optional that I want to consider? Should I hold out for the chance of cure? How should I time my death? What weight should I give to the welfare interests of others?
It is an interesting point that despite their experience in the treatment of terminally ill patients, in opinion polls medical doctors have shown themselves to be more opposed to assisted dying than the public. Perhaps, that is because they will be the people who will have to be of assistance in the vindication of any right to die.
There are those who find their lives damaged beyond recognition by accident or by illness and feel it is not worth living a miserable life waiting for death by natural causes. We have, of course, also seen a huge plague of suicide in our society. We have seen too many young people die like this. We have seen vulnerable groups particularly affected by this and have all called out for more mental health services, more emergency interventions, more awareness campaigns and every possible measure to prevent people dying in this manner.
Then, however, we also saw the intelligent, rational, loving arguments put forward by Marie Fleming and her husband Tom. We are now listening to the intelligent, rational and compassionate statements of Vicky Phelan and we are wavering between those two ends of that spectrum. That should show us there is no black and white. There is no absolute right or wrong and if we are going to legislate, or not, on assisted dying then we had better do so in the calmest, most informed and most respectful way possible.
This Bill should proceed to Committee Stage and we must do our best possible job of scrutinising it and making informed determinations. This Oireachtas has the responsibility to deal with this matter. While it might be easier to avoid it, the right thing to do is work together to build consensus and maximum agreement on this difficult issue. With that in mind, I urge members to allow this to go to the next Stage.
I thank Sinn Féin for generously giving me some of its time. It is a pity we are under so much time pressure because I believe many people would like to contribute. It is an important issue.
At the outset, I commend Deputy Gino Kenny on the work he has done in this area in bringing the Bill forward and allowing debate on this important issue in the Dáil this evening. We all accept this is an extremely complex ethical issue. It is sensitive and its complexity is all the more reason we should hear this debate tonight and that we should engage with this issue.
I acknowledge at this point the outstanding work done by Tom Curran and his beloved late wife, Marie Fleming, in terms of bringing this issue, in particular, to the fore. They played a central role in that and I commend all their campaigning work.
My party passed a motion at the party conference last year calling for clear policy in this area. We have just completed some policy work and I hope we can input that into the debate that will happen, hopefully, over the coming months.
As a nation, we need to have an in-depth and nuanced conversation about end-of-life care. As we all recognise, this is an incredibly personal issue and it deserves a frank, honest conversation about the value of life, the complexity of terminal illness and the right to dignity and autonomy at the end of life. Of course, end-of-life care covers a whole spectrum. We are more familiar, of course, with home care, hospice care and palliative care and we have not been great about resourcing those properly. Successive Governments have not done that and it must be a critical part of end-of-life care. So too, however, are issues like a living will, the right to decide on resuscitation or not and, I believe, ultimately, the right in the case of a person who has a terminal illness to decide on the timing of his or her passing. I believe we all have a responsibility to respect those rights.
An important contribution was made to the debate by Mr. Michael Nugent with regard to his late wife, Anne, to which the Minister referred. There was also an important contribution this week from Mr. Fintan O'Toole regarding his late father's death. In both cases, the point was made that the big fear of the person struggling with the terminal illness was that they would not be able to take that decision themselves. Once they were given an assurance, either on medication or support in accessing the carrying out of a decision with regard to ending their life, they relaxed about it. Once they were given that reassurance the anxiety went and, as it turned out, both people concerned had natural deaths. That is a fundamental right that I believe any of us would want for ourselves or for our loved ones. We cannot avoid this issue any longer.
I commend Deputy Gino Kenny on his work. Ultimately a person with a terminal illness should be able to decide to choose the time of his or her passing and the State must respect that decision. This debate needs to take that frank look at the importance of personal choice and autonomy, and the importance of ensuring that medical treatment will be available when the person takes that decision.
We need to include many issues in this. We need to take expert advice from a range of different people. We need to have a national conversation and debate. When the Joint Committee on Justice and Equality looked at the right to die, there was a recommendation for it to be referred to the citizens' assembly. While that has merit, taking it in committee, ideally a Dáil committee, which is established quickly and is time limited would be the best way to do it. The example is the Joint Committee on the Repeal of the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution. Wonderful work was done on that and it was broadly based. It was a respectful debate and came to a very clear consensus. We need to follow that in this case.
We have ten minutes left and we have seven speakers. It is up to Members themselves. I have no control over it. The 75-minute limit must be complied with.
On a point of order, I welcome that all the speakers so far have said we need a proper discussion about this very serious issue. It would be a shame to go through the Second Stage debate without anybody with an opposing view on the Bill getting a chance to speak and with all the views exactly the same. The slots were filled before the debate even started. It is highly unusual for people who arrived on time not even to get a chance to put their names down. I suggest that we might extend by 20 minutes and give people a chance to-----
I am sorry. I have no authority to extend the sitting at all.
So much for democracy-----
It was decided by Standing Orders.
-----if we take a different view.
It is unfair.
We represent the other-----
I want to say this. It is not my Standing Order.
This is meant to be a democratic Parliament.
The Standing Orders were introduced for a reason.
The Standing Orders do not allow the slots to be filled-----
The reason is this.
-----before the debate on the Bill starts.
Wait until I finish. Late on a Thursday evening, 20 or 30 Members might want to speak on a particular issue, which would mean extending the sitting of the House until midnight or whatever the case may be, which is not practical and is not fair to staff. I am only explaining that. I do not make the rules.
On a point of clarification, I waited for this Bill this evening. People said they welcomed opposing views. We are getting no right here. When did it happen that Members can come in before the time of the commencement of the debate on the Bill and hand in their names? I was here for all the previous debate and could have given in my name. My understanding is that I had to wait until the Chair introduced the debate before putting down my name. That is my clear understanding. I will raise this at the Business Committee because it is shambolic to shut people out.
I will answer that too. The reason it is difficult to do it that way is as follows. Ten or 15 Members could converge on the Chair or the clerk at the same time. Who decides who goes first on the list? It is not possible. Unfortunately-----
Except for the Order of Business.
No, it is not.
It is done on the Order of Business.
No, it is not.
Members cannot give their names until the Order of Business commences.
I am sorry this is not the Order of Business.
I am sorry. The Deputy knows the rules as well as I do. He has chaired sessions himself and knows the story.
I am sorry. I cannot let the Deputy in again. It is already done.
The Ceann Comhairle's office-----
I now call Deputy Kelly.
-----asked one of the staff to come down here-----
I am sorry, Deputy.
-----to speak to you.
I have done all I can.
I have repeatedly encouraged Members to share time.
It would be a shame if a debate of this importance-----
Some people shared time and some people did not.
-----started in this way.
If people do not want to share time, I cannot help it.
On a point of order-----
I call Deputy Kelly. The same applies.
On a point of order, how is the 75 minutes made up?
The first two 15-minute slots go to the proposer and the Government. At the end there are five minutes for the Government and ten minutes for the proposer, whoever they may be and that is at the end.
On a point of order-----
I must make space for those two and in between-----
On a point of order-----
No more points of order.
You let other people in.
Sorry we have had enough now.
I call Deputy Kelly, who has the privilege and honour if he wishes to share with all the Members who wish to speak or he can take ten minutes, but ten minutes is all it will be.
As leader of the Labour Party, I want to add my and my party's support to this important legislation. I commend Deputy Gino Kenny on introducing the Bill tonight, as I have done in private on a number of occasions. I take this opportunity to acknowledge the work of the former Minister of State and Deputy, John Halligan, who ploughed a lonely furrow for a considerable period. I hope he is watching tonight. He is still advocating for it.
It is vital to handle this issue sensitively irrespective of one's view. It is quite an emotive topic and many people have differing views. I have met people who have changed their views in the past week. I respect the Government's position. I respect the conversations we have had. I do not agree with the Government's position in delaying this for a year. During the Covid crisis it would not materialise. I appreciate the sincerity with which it was put forward.
At the end of the day we are legislators and we need to legislate. We must legislate for this issue now. This is not a perfect Bill. What we are doing tonight is putting forward our principle that we need to deal with this as legislators. The Labour Party has a number of issues with the Bill and we will deal with them on Committee Stage in the coming weeks and months.
We have gone through considerable societal change in recent years. Irish people have always come through a process and showed their caring nature irrespective of their opinions on very sensitive issues. We have also gone through a very tough six months with Covid and many people have questioned their own mortality. We have had different conversations around our kitchen tables. When a loved one becomes sick with a serious illness and the end of their life is nearing, we all want to do whatever we can to help them and stop their pain and suffering.
Improving end-of-life care and providing outlets for dying with dignity are imperative. This issue cannot be kicked down the road any longer. I acknowledge the work of Gail O'Rourke and the sacrifices she made. I also acknowledge Marie Fleming and Tom Curran. We all know Marie's story. While she was in the final stages of multiple sclerosis, she brought a landmark case in the Supreme Court to challenge the State's legal ban on assisted suicide. We know she lost her battle, but through her spirit what she advocated for was the spark that has ignited this discussion and brought us to where we are tonight. Her campaign is ongoing and she kick-started a national debate on these matters, which will be her lasting legacy.
I have said many times in this House that I have met one of the bravest women many of us have ever heard or have had the privilege of meeting. I have become a good friend of hers. I am speaking about Vicky Phelan. I listen very closely to Vicky Phelan. I know the proposer of the Bill does also. I was reassured by her stance in the multiple conversations I had with her. I speak to her every week and I spoke to her earlier today. She asked me to read something into the Dáil record tonight. The following words are not mine, but Vicky Phelan's:
You have been asked to debate a very important Bill this evening - the Dying with Dignity Bill. I understand that there will be very many of you who may not agree with what this Bill proposes - assisted dying. However, all that I am asking of you is to park your own views on this issue for a moment and consider this:
Imagine that you are dying from an incurable cancer. You are still relatively young with young children. You do not want to die yet you know that, barring a miracle, this is not going to happen.
You do not know how long you have left yet all you can think about is dying and leaving your children behind.
You know that people suffering from the same cancer, who have died before you, endured a lot of pain in their final weeks.
Indeed, you have sat with some of these patients in their final weeks and watched them and their loved ones suffer unnecessarily while they waited for the last breath.
You will never forget the sound of the death rattle, a sound that you know is facing you when your time comes and which haunts you when you imagine your young children having to witness this.
Now, imagine that there is another way.
Imagine that you can choose to control the circumstances of your inevitable death.
Imagine that, by virtue of this Bill, that you are allowed to die, gently, at home, surrounded by your family and friends when your time is nearing its end.
I do not have to imagine.
THIS is what this Dying with Dignity Bill would do for me and my family.
I do not want to die.
I am NOT choosing between living and dying.
My cancer is incurable.
The option of living will no longer be available to me in the not too distant future.
I just want to be allowed to have the choice to control the circumstances of my death much as I have made decisions about my own life.
Please, I ask all of you who have a free vote on this issue:
Do not vote for the amendment proposed by Cabinet and [Government] and send this Bill to a Special Committee to be scrutinised for another 12 months.
Vote for this Bill to go through to the Second Stage and allow for pre-legislative scrutiny to take place NOW, not in 12 months time.
Do not kick this issue down the road for another 12 months.
Voting for this Bill will bring a huge amount of comfort and clarity to people, like me, who know they are going to die, and die with a certain amount of suffering and pain.
Allow people to make choices for themselves.
We all know that this is not a black-and-white issue. We all know there will be grey areas and that we will have to go through this legislation in a huge amount of detail. We all know we will change parts of the legislation, to which the proposer is very much open. We all know there are concerns about people who are considered vulnerable and that people could potentially be taken advantage of. We all know checks and balances will have to be put in place. We in the Labour Party value people's dignity above all else and want to ensure that everybody is protected and everybody can have the fullest life that he or she deserves.
This is not something that is a replacement for palliative care. Please let no Member stand up here and say that this is a replacement for palliative care. No one in this House should do so because that is not what we are dealing with. There a number of legal issues and a number of issues in the Bill which will have to be changed. These issues relate to, for instance, section 2 of the Criminal Law (Suicide) Act 1993, which prohibits aiding, abetting, counselling or procuring the suicide of another person. This Bill is concerned with removing that ban. However, section 12 of this Bill seems to override section 2 of the 1993 Act in its entirety. This is an issue we will have to deal with as we go through this Bill on Committee Stage. There is another issue with section 12 of the Bill, which states that nothing in the Criminal Law (Suicide) Act 1993 make unlawful the provision of assistance in accordance with this Bill. However, this Bill is concerned with more than just providing assistance. It authorises in circumstances the direct administration of substances by the attending physician. Therefore we are going to have to deal with that as well.
Supporting this Bill is a brave stance to take and I am glad to be a Member of this House and to supporting it with colleagues from across all different forms of politics. I urge Members to consider this Bill very deeply as they make up their minds and to consider the people advocating for it and, most of all, to consider the fact that we, as legislators, have to deal with this legislation in a very timely fashion. I ask Members to please support the Bill and not the Government's amendment.
Deputy Kenny, I understand you are ceding four minutes of your concluding statement.
I am happy to give four minutes to one of the other Deputies. Deputy Bríd Smith will take three and I will take two.
Will it be shared between the two?
That is fine. I call Deputy Fitzpatrick.
It can be shared wherever-----
I greatly welcome the opportunity to participate in today's debate. I strongly oppose the Bill before us. We in Ireland have just come through a seven-month period which has been appalling for many of our older and more vulnerable citizens. Tens of thousands of them have been confined to their homes and have seen a huge decline in their morale, health and quality of life as a result. Many have been cut off from their families and their communities. Hundreds of our older people were left isolated and alone in nursing homes and were in some cases left to die at the height of the coronavirus last April. The lack of planning and consideration for the needs of older, more vulnerable people contributed in no small way to this tragic loss of life. It is absolutely shocking that against this backdrop, when some of the most vulnerable people in our society turn on their radios these days, they are bombarded with media stories pushing the case for legalising assisted suicide. At the very time when we should be encouraging people and putting supports in place to help the morale and well-being of people who have been through so much in recent months, the Dáil is spending time talking about introducing a law that would sanction the ending of people's lives.
The title of the Bill does not convey what the Bill would actually permit, which is euthanasia, plain and simple. Euthanasia is a deeply sensitive issue for many older people and those who are most vulnerable in our community. Today is the United Nations International Day of Older Persons. It is a very sad thing that we are debating a Bill about ending life rather than talking about assisting and enriching lives on such an important day. There was a letter in The Irish Times last week from Dr. Martin Owen, a medical doctor based in Ontario, Canada. I expect all Deputies, and those on the Government side in particular, to read it. In this letter Dr. Owen pointed out that in Canada, where euthanasia was only legalised in 2016, already 81% of all euthanasia is carried out on people over 65 years of age and that one third of people is over the age of 80. The Canadian Government has proposed a new Bill which would extend euthanasia for non-fatal conditions, including many disabilities like cerebral palsy.
I am sorry to interrupt you, Deputy Fitzpatrick, but are you sharing the four minutes? Deputy Tóibín should resume his seat.
I am taking the four minutes.
Okay. Two more minutes on the clock, please.
What is happening in Canada is the same as what happened in other countries that introduced euthanasia, or assisted dying as some people insist on calling it. Once the law permits the ending of life, very soon it is no longer confined to the so-called hard cases. The door to unrestricted euthanasia is thrown open. Using phrases like "a very restrictive Bill with lots of safeguards" does not make it so. The only thing that matters is the text of the Bill and the Bill before us this evening would open up the door to one of the most extreme regimes anywhere in the world. Having good intentions is not good enough in this situation. What matters are facts and the facts show that in every country that has introduced similar laws to the ones proposed in this Bill, it is only a matter of time until there is unrestricted euthanasia. We have a suicide crisis at present and huge efforts are being made in the area of suicide prevention. Members should think of the mixed messages and signals this sends out to people who are struggling with suicidal thoughts to hear people on the radio and in the Dáil making the case for assisted suicide.
The amount of correspondence I have received in recent days from healthcare professionals is unbelievable. They all raise serious concerns about the impact a change in the law in this area would have on the very vulnerable people in the area. Away from the soft-focus interviews that many in the media have been conducting on this issue in recent weeks, there are people all around Ireland who have been listening to this debate and are disconcerted and upset by what they have heard. I know the supporters of the Bill never intended to add to their suffering and I would never level this charge. However, the message the medical professions have been sending to Deputies in recent days is loud and clear. The impact of what is said in debates like this and the changes to the law in the area can be devastating for the most vulnerable and fragile members of our community who oftentimes start to see themselves as a burden on society with a duty to end their lives. We must listen to what the experts are saying in this regard.
Before I conclude, some months ago I raised an issue in this House about a do not resuscitate, DNR, order that has been placed on the medical charts of some residents of nursing homes without the consent of the residents themselves or their loved ones.
The matter was also raised in a recent HIQA report.
I thank Members who have contributed to the debate on the Private Members' Dying with Dignity Bill 2020. I am grateful to Deputy Gino Kenny and his colleagues for highlighting the need to address assisted dying and for contributing to the debate. I do not doubt the Bill has been tabled with the best of humanitarian objectives in a sincere effort to ensure every Irish person who is dying, no matter from what, has the right to die with dignity.
The Bill raises significant legal, ethical and policy issues and issues of freedom, justice and compassion, which deserve our full consideration. Dying is a highly charged and emotional matter. Most of us simply find it too difficult to have the necessary conversations involved to face up to the fact of our own death or that of someone we love. We prefer to stick our fingers in our ears and get on with living. When we add assistance into the idea of death it makes it an even more intense conversation. There are deeply held views in the Oireachtas and throughout the country on this issue, and in taking the next steps as a Parliament and Government we must respect and hear all of them.
We all hope we can leave this world peacefully and with dignity. Will the Bill help or hinder this process? As I believe we need to discuss this and give it the time and attention it deserves, I am adding my support to the countermotion of the Minister for Justice and Equality, which proposes a time delay that would allow scrutiny by a joint Oireachtas committee in order to adequately consider the policy and legal issues raised in the Bill.
The Bill requires careful deliberation. We need to consider it together with wider society and expert professional groups as well as a wide range of Departments and the Office of the Attorney General. Which aspects of the Bill do we need to consider? Is it more compassionate to allow people the right to end their lives or to protect people's lives at all costs? Does the Bill do enough to protect and safeguard the vulnerable and vindicate their constitutional rights? As the High Court asked in 2013, are the safeties in place for the aged, disabled, the poor, the unwanted, the rejected, the lonely, the impulsive, the financially compromised and the emotionally vulnerable so they would not disguise their own personal preference and elect to hasten death because they do not want to be a burden on family and society?
From the legal perspective of protecting the vulnerable and vindicating their constitutional right to life, further consideration needs to be given to the period of time given to persons with a terminal illness and how that time might make them eligible to access assisted dying. More discussion on the role of the patient's family members or those acting in a position of enduring power of attorney needs to be had. The Bill makes no mention of this, which is a crucial oversight.
Like it or not, death is an issue that every one of us will face and because of this we need to give the Bill serious time, attention and consideration. This is a highly emotive subject. To some, the issue is anchored in the rights of a person to have some control over the time and manner of his or her death. For others, there are very real concerns about the potential for knock-on consequences, including inappropriate deaths, the normalisation of suicide and the impact on palliative care. We must recognise the legitimacy of all of these viewpoints and take them all into account in our deliberations.
We have big questions to ask about the Bill. For me, the biggest one at present is whether the current legal status of assisted dying is in step or out of step with Irish public opinion. What does the electorate want? As elected Members of the Dáil, we need to ensure we are correctly representing people. I do not believe we have the time and space to do that properly without the proposed amendment the Government has tabled. The proposed joint Oireachtas committee would provide the time and space to undertake a detailed examination of the proposal in the Bill, hear expert advice and make recommendations on how best to proceed, including on possible amendments. The Government is aware that if we are to deal with assisted dying comprehensively in law we must give it the careful nuanced consideration it deserves. Allowing a committee time to consider all the issues involved is the best way to make sure the law we put in place takes a careful, measured and well evidenced approach and will do the best for all our citizens. We are all ultimately on the same side; we all want to do the best for the people of Ireland.
I agree with Deputy Fitzpatrick that our most vulnerable citizens have been treated despicably in the Covid period in nursing homes. He is right about that and this Bill does not even exist in law. The protection of vulnerability is not contained in the Bill's existence; it is dependent on the sort of society we have. It is dependent on whether we provide the resources that older people, sick people and sick children need or whether we have charity balls, fundraisers and coffee mornings for the palliative care that is required because that is done mainly by charities through the hospice instead of the State providing the care needed for those who are most vulnerable.
The question of vulnerability is really a distraction by the Minister of State and Deputy Fitzpatrick because actually there is an argument to be made that if we legislate for assisted dying, we will protect people even more. In that circumstance, they can have frank and honest conversations with the medical profession, they can make decisions, there are time limits in place, the process is overseen by two medical persons who are qualified to do so and there is less vulnerability.
I know a couple of people who collect their medicines. They do it so that some day if they want to pass away quietly and quickly rather than going through months and months of decreasing life quality, they will have the option to do so. For them, it is a dirty secret. It is a bit like how termination of pregnancy was once a dirty secret in this country. Talking about the most vulnerable is not where it is at and we have missed the point here and missed an opportunity to have the argument about it.
I have a short time to speak but I want to make a couple of points. Euthanasia is not something that is carried out in abundance in countries that allow for assisted dying. That is absolutely false and we can prove it in a longer debate. Euthanasia or assisted dying is not done to people but with them and not all of the people concerned are old. Vicky Phelan is not old. The woman whose life story I read in The Irish Times, who went on hunger strike and ended up starving herself to death because nobody would give her assisted dying facilities, was a young woman. Friends of mine who I know are facing terrible trauma are young. People do not have to be old to be vulnerable and they do not have to be old to make what I consider to be a very courageous choice. Often that choice is made out of love for life and love for the lives of those being left behind. I ask Members to remember this when we are discussing the topic.
I object to the idea that we should drag out the debate and the idea that a committee would not have enough time. I tabled a climate emergency Bill that is still not sorted out after two years. We have been talking back and forth about it for two years. The first Bill tabled on abortion was tabled by Clare Daly in 2013. We did not get legislation until 2019. The Government can take as long as it wants but it should not do so. Vicky Phelan and others are waiting and Deputy Gino Kenny is willing to pursue this.
I thank all the contributors to the debate, and I was happy to give Deputy Fitzpatrick some time, even though I diametrically oppose what he said, but everybody should have their views heard. It is a shame there was not more time for the debate because I would like to have heard other people's views, even though I completely disagree with them, but that is what the debate is about.
This is quite a complex debate. It is a very profound debate about mortality, our lives, futures and friends and the people we love. These are very difficult circumstances. For 16 years of my life, I have been a carer. I have cared for people in very difficult circumstances coming to the end of their lives.
This is not about ending life. This is about living. People are in situations in which they do not want to die by any means. They want to live. I take exception to conflating this with suicide. People with a terminal illness are not suicidal. They want to live every second, minute and hour of every day and week to see their family and enjoy life. Sometimes, however, life is extremely cruel and a terminal illness chooses a person. No one chooses it. This will be an ongoing debate and these are the issues that will be teased out over time.
I am not against having an all-party committee. My concern is that we have had reports and committees before but nothing ever happened. That has been my experience here. It is extremely frustrating when nothing happens. I hope this time it might be different. What is important in this debate is that politics is left outside. I know it is difficult sometimes but if we can leave our political allegiances outside, I think we can progress on this debate. This is about humanity, compassion and empathy for our fellow human beings who find themselves in the most difficult circumstances. They do not want to go through unbearable pain for themselves or for their families. On that basis, will the Minister of State drop the amendment to allow the Bill to proceed to pre-legislative scrutiny?
This has been an honest but hard debate. While there are only a number of us here, many people outside are listening to this debate. They want us to step up to the plate and do the right thing.
In accordance with Standing Order 80(2), the division is postponed until the weekly division time on Wednesday, 7 October 2020.