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Seanad Éireann debate -
Thursday, 3 Jun 1993

Vol. 136 No. 10

Criminal Law (Suicide) (No. 2) Bill, 1993: Second Stage.

Question proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

Go raibh maith agat, a Chathaoirligh. The loss of any human life is a tragedy and suicide is particularly so because it is self-inflicted and should, therefore, be avoidable. In 1991 over 300 people in Ireland committed suicide, that is close to one a day and approximately three-quarters of those who committed suicide were male. Young men in the age range of 15-25 years are in a particularly high risk category for suicide. The factors giving rise to suicide in society have been the subject of debate and research for some time but there is no one simple explanation. Studies in Ireland have highlighted that there are many factors involved. These include physical and mental illness, alcoholism, personality structure and social isolation. Although a high proportion of those who commit suicide in Ireland are unemployed, studies suggest that financial poverty itself is unrelated to rising suicide rates; rather it is the poverty of relationships and social opportunities that affects the rate of suicide. The assessment of suicide risk is notoriously difficult and few individuals who threaten suicide actually go on to complete the act.

The rate of suicide in Ireland has risen since the 1960s. Even allowing for discrepancies in statistics one study suggests the real rate of suicide doubled in the period 1968-87. Notwithstanding this increase, the rate of suicide in Ireland is still relatively moderate and is considerably lower than the rate in countries such as Denmark, France, Belgium, Luxembourg and Germany.

The tragedy of suicide and the sense of bereavement of those who have lost a loved one to suicide is not helped by the fact that suicide is still a criminal offence. In my address to this House on 28 April I made my position clear. I see no justification for maintaining suicide as a criminal offence and I hope to see this Bill decriminalising suicide enacted as soon as possible. There is no evidence whatsoever that making suicide a crime has ever prevented a suicide and I suspect the stigma of criminality attached to suicide may have actually prevented an open approach to the issue as well as adding to the grief of the family and friends of the deceased.

People who are prone to suicide need help, not the threat of criminal sanctions. They need to be able to discuss their problem openly without fear of the taint of criminality. My aim in introducing this Bill is to take the act of suicide out of the scope of the criminal law and to put it firmly in the arena of health in the broadest sense where it primarily belongs. Suicide should not be a criminal activity but it is a problem that requires a caring and sensitive response from society at all levels.

Before I go on to discuss the detailed provisions of the Bill it may be helpful if I touch on the existing criminal law as it affects suicide. Suicide is a common law offence. It was not created by Statute but formed part of the ancient unwritten law of England as interpreted by judges. I cannot offer a satisfactory explanation as to why it was originally made a criminal offence other than because it was regarded as self murder. The fact that the perpetrator of the crime of suicide was dead did not prevent the common law from imposing penalties. Up to 1870 the property of a person who committed suicide was forfeit to the State and it was the practice in England to bury a person who committed suicide at a crossroads with a stake through the heart. This practice was only prohibited in England in 1882 by the Interments (felo de se) Act, 1882 —Felo de se being the legal Latin term for suicide. The relevant provision was section 2 which states, and I quote:

It shall not be lawful for any coroner or other officer having authority to hold inquests to issue any warrant or other process directing the interment of the remains of persons against whom a finding of felo de se shall be had in any public highway or with any stake being driven through the body of such person ...

There are also reported instances where persons who, having attempted suicide and survived, were subsequently hanged.

Suicide is a felony under the common law and all felonies may be tried on indictment. Under the common law any attempt to commit an indictable offence is itself an indictable offence and by virtue of this attempted suicide is therefore under the existing law an offence. A person convicted of attempted suicide may be sentenced by the courts to any term of imprisonment up to life or to a fine or to both at the discretion of the court.

Suicide is a felony and as such, any person who is an accessory before the fact to a suicide or who counsels, procures or commands a person to commit suicide may be tried, convicted and punished in all respects as if he were a principal felon. Attempted suicide is a misdemeanour and a person who aids, abets, counsels or procures the commission of any misdemeanour is liable to be tried, indicted and punished as the principal offender. The provisions governing these matters are set out in the Accessories and Abettors Act, 1961.

I now turn to the Bill itself. It is extremely short, only three sections. The main provision is section 2 (1) which states clearly and concisely that "suicide shall cease to be a crime". Abolishing the offence of suicide also automatically abolishes the offence of attempting to commit suicide. A similar situation arises in the case of the offence committed by a person who is an accessory to suicide or attempted suicide. The abolition of the offence of suicide means that it will no longer be an offence under the common law to be an accomplice to suicide or attempted suicide.

The abolition of the existing offence of being an accomplice to suicide gives rise to certain dangers. The sanctity of human life must be respected and the law cannot condone a person who wilfully encourages or assists the taking of a human life even if the actual act is self inflicted. For this reason section 2 (2) of the Bill makes it an offence for a person to aid, abet, counsel or procure the suicide or an attempted suicide of another person.

The subsection provides that a person convicted of such an offence shall be liable on conviction on indictment to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 14 years. This is less than the existing penalty of life imprisonment but it still marks out the offence as being serious. The reason that a severe penalty is being provided for is to cover situations where a person deliberately procures the suicide of another for his own motives.

Section 2 (3) in effect provides for a verdict of complicity in suicide as an alternative verdict in cases where a person is charged with murder or manslaughter. If the facts support it, the jury may return a verdict that the accused aided, abetted, counselled or procured the suicide of another person as an alternative to a verdict of murder or a verdict of manslaughter. This type of scenario is most likely to arise in the case of a suicide pact where one person survives. The jury will have to decide on the basis of the evidence whether the accused killed the other person and is therefore, guilty of murder or whether the accused was merely an accomplice to the suicide of the other person and, therefore, guilty of an offence under subsection (2).

Subsection (4) is a technical provision which means prosecutions can only be taken by or with the consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions; because of the nature of the offence of complicity in suicide it is considered right that there should be some central control on the initiation of prosecutions under the new offence created by subsection (2).

Section 3 is a straightforward repeal of section 9 of the Summary Jurisdiction (Ireland) Amendment Act, 1871, which was amended by section 85 of the Courts of Justice Act, 1936. The section provides that, where a person is charged with and confesses to attempted suicide before a judge of the District Court, he may be convicted and imprisoned for any period not exceeding three months unless he does not consent to having his case heard by the District Court or the judge is of opinion that the charge is fit to be made the subject of prosecution by indictment rather than to be disposed of summarily. This provision will be superfluous once the offence of suicide is abolished. Indeed, if the provision was not to be repealed it might cause confusion as to the abolition of the offence of attempted suicide.

Suicide raises many issues outside the scope of this Bill. As well as being responsible for criminal law reform, I am also responsible for the operation of the prisons and suicide has important implications in this area. I would like to touch on the question of suicides by persons in custody. The number is running at between three and five a year. This has been a matter of concern to me and to my predecessors and, for the information of the House, I should say that the strategy for dealing with suicides in the prisons is as recommended in the Report of the Advisory Group on Prison Deaths which was published in August 1991.

The report has 57 recommendations and so far 50 of them have been or are being implemented. These include 24 hour medical orderly cover in eight closed institutions which was made possible by the appointment of 43 additional trained staff at a cost of £500,000 a year; an increase in the number of clinical psychologists which will shortly increase from three to six and will include a female psychologist for work in the women's prison; professional counselling of both prisoners and staff after a suicide is discovered; the installation of a cell-call system in all institutions to enable a prisoner in distress to call for help; the introduction of a service by the Samaritans in seven places of detention which will shortly be extended to the remaining five places; the provision of a dedicated phoneline to the Samaritans for prisoners' use which is now available in three places and which is to be extended to the remaining places as soon as possible; training for staff in suicide awareness; setting up of a suicide prevention group in each place of detention to monitor developments in relation to suicide prevention and to take precautionary action on the spot; the improvement in GP services; the improvement in the arrangements for special observation of prisoners at risk; the revision of the Rules for the Government of Prisons, 1947; improvements in committal arrangements; training with resuscitation equipment; and provision of in-cell sanitation — a seven year programme.

The remaining seven recommendations are more long term in nature and will be taken into account as the prison system develops. They include the provison of a committal assessment centre, a new female prison, a new open centre for women prisoners and a special unit to cater for psychiatrically disturbed violent prisoners. The advisory group itself recognised the long term implications of these recommendations.

While no effort is being spared in pursuing a planned programme of action in suicide prevention, it has to be said, regrettably, that no prevention programme can guarantee complete success. This is a fact which the advisory group acknowledged when they said "if a person is sufficiently determined to commit suicide, it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to prevent him doing so".

Constant and unremitting supervision of a prisoner at risk might be successful but again the report cautions that this could be "an obstacle to a person recovering from a trauma or crisis that puts him in the risk category in that the supervision itself would be oppressive". The group made the further comment that "whereas many people who commit suicide in prison are or have been regarded as at risk, suicides occur among inmates in respect of whom there is no indication whatever that they are at risk".

In the prisons, as in society at large, we are dealing with a highly complex phenomenon for which there are no easy remedies. In relation to prisons I hope it is clear that all practicable steps are being taken to anticipate and prevent suicides. I wish I could confirm that these efforts will be fully effective but given the complexities involved I would prefer to confine myself to the hope that prison suicides will be kept to the absolute minimum.

I think it would be appropriate at this stage to make reference to the Private Members' Suicide Bills introduced by Senator Neville in the Seanad. He presented his first Bill in 1991 and then a second slightly expanded Bill in 1992 and a third in 1993. He very graciously withdrew his own Bill when I first published my proposals at the end of April.

I regret that a commitment I gave to this House that the Government's Bill on the decriminalisation of suicide would be introduced here first was not acted upon. I regret that because matters were outside my control and, because of arrangements between the Whips in the other House, it was not possible to come to this House with the Bill first.

It has to be acknowledged that Senator Neville has played an important role in keeping this issue in the public eye and he is to be admired for his dedication to this issue and complimented on the work he has done. I know we both share the same aim, which is to decriminalise suicide, and I hope I will get the full support of this House in achieving this aim.

I commend this Bill to the House.

I thank the Minister for her kind words and for bringing the Bill to the House and for bringing the decriminalisation of suicide to a satisfactory conclusion. Ireland can now closely examine the reason for the increased incidence of suicide in recent years, particularly among young people.

It is now almost two and a half years since I placed a motion on the Seanad Order Paper asking the Government to decriminalise suicide. The motion was placed on the Order Paper on 23 January 1991. It also asked the Government to set up a task force to tackle the mounting problems of suicide among youths. No debate on that motion took place and on 12 June 1991, I published a Private Members' Bill — the Suicide Bill, 1991 — which was debated in Fine Gael Private Members' time on 27 November and on 4 December 1991. The then Minister for Justice, Deputy R. Burke, promised to bring a Bill before the Houses to decriminalise suicide by Christmas of that year and the then Government parties voted down the Fine Gael Private Members' Bill.

That Bill is almost an exact copy of the Bill before us today. I fail to understand why a promise was made to enact the contents of this legislation within three weeks of voting down our Bill and now, two and a half years later, we have a similar Bill before us. Throughout 1992 on the Order of Business in this House Senator Manning and I repeatedly asked the Leader of the House when we could expect the Government's Bill. There was no information forthcoming and I raised the matter on 20 May 1992 under Matters of Concern to Members and called on the Government to honour its promise to decriminalise suicides.

When no progress was achieved throughout that summer I reintroduced the Private Members' Suicide Bill, 1992, on 8 October of that year. This, of course, fell with the general election in November. In the absence of progress by the end of March 1993, I republished the previous Bill and placed it on the Order Paper of the Seanad, and this was introduced in Private Members' time one month later on 28 April 1993.

On the morning the Government introduced its own Bill; I welcomed this and during the debate in Private Members' time I withdrew my Bill at the Minister's request on the basis that she would immediately introduce her Bill in this House. I quote from the Minister's speech — she has spoken about the concern we had at that time:

As there is now a Government Bill decriminalising suicide before this House I would ask Senator Neville not to pursue his own Bill. It would be most unfortunate to have a divisive vote on an issue where we both share the same fundamental aim which is to decriminalise suicide. I now ask the Whips of the House to arrange the Second Stage to be taken in this House as soon as possible in view of what I feel is widespread support to decriminalise suicide.

On this understanding Fine Gael withdrew its Bill and I believed, in view of the developments, that no division between parties should take place on the matter. However, the Government did not see it in this way. One week later, this House was divided when the Government parties were forced by their masters to withdraw the Bill from the Order Paper. Everybody in the House expressed regret and I accept the Minister's expression of regret today. The masters decided that it should be withdrawn and that severely damaged the dignity and standing of this House. The reason for the withdrawal of the Minister's Bill from this House and its initiation in Dáil Éireann is to ensure that credit should not rest with Seanad Éireann.

All this divisiveness and delay could have been avoided if the then Government had had the foresight and confidence to accept the Fine Gael Private Members' Bill in 1991. The acceptance of such Bills would enhance the role of the Oireachtas. Such legislation coming from any side of the political divide should not be rejected regardless of its merits, by Government. There is a high expectation of performance from politicians. The public look at us more and more to be legislators. We must spend more time looking at ways of changing and improving society through the legislative process. The performance of both Houses must be judged on this. I ask the Government to accept worthy Private Members' Bills.

That suicide and attempted suicide remain crimes in Ireland is an indication of our failure to understand and recognise the outcome of research in the area and reflects a tendency by Irish society to view suicide as a scandal rather than a tragedy. This approach must now end. It is time that we studied and understood the pressures which caused the suicide rate to increase sixfold since 1970. Irish society must accelerate its change in attitude and recognise suicide as a public health issue. I recently met a retired garda who had the experience of charging somebody with attempted suicide. The trauma he went through and the experience he had are still with him. It was in the Bridewell in 1965. The person had attempted to drown himself in the Liffey and the following morning the garda brought him before the court to be charged. He discussed his experience with me in detail. It is not long since this was a real issue as a crime.

In decriminalising suicide, I ask the Government immediately to initiate anti-suicide programmes. I call on the Minister for Health to establish a counselling service for those who attempt to commit suicide and to help those bereaved by suicide. Understanding, compassion and professional counselling must be the response to suicide. I pay tribute to the Samaritans, the Cork-based Friends of the Suicide Bereaved and other organisations who work on a voluntary basis in this area. They do excellent work. This should be a health issue and I ask the Minister for Health immediately to allocate funds to establish a counselling service for those who attempt suicide and for the suicide bereaved. While the decriminalisation of suicide is an important issue, the change must be used to establish progressive, compassionate and professional services throughout the health boards to monitor the whole area of suicide and assist those affected. Suicide must now become a matter for the Department of Health and must be removed from the Department of Justice.

In the 1960s, officially recorded suicides averaged 60 per annum. This figure is now in excess of 320. In the 1960s, Ireland had one of the lowest rates of suicide in the world. As in other countries, there was a level of under recording. Irish emigrants retained this low rate of suicide, although the rate was somewhat higher than among the Irish at home. The rate in Ireland at that time was therefore genuinely low and the increase in the incidence of suicide cannot be attributed to changes in recording practices. If this was the case there would be a consequential fall in accidental drownings, accidental poisonings and cases of open verdicts. This has not happened. The official increase in suicide levels since 1960 is about 400 per cent among men and 200 per cent among women.

Notwithstanding the low level of suicide in the past, it is accepted that there has been an under recording of suicide incidence. It is accepted that the true figures are two to three times the official rate. In a study in County Limerick in 1989, which I referred to previously, Dr. Peter Kirwan of the Mid-Western Health Board found that the true suicide rate was 18.05 per 100,000 while the official figures for that period were 7.1 per 100,000. The figures reported from Galway for 1978 showed a rate of 13.1 per 100,000 in contrast with the official figure which was 4.6 per 100,000, again circa three times the official rate. These studies add further weight to the view that the official rates for suicide greatly underestimate the true position. The figures could be in the region of 1,000 per year.

The compilation of accurate figures is hampered by the fact that a coroner is precluded from returning a verdict of suicide. This makes the collection of accurate figures very difficult. The information is obtained from the investigating garda whose view is given to the Central Statistics Office. I understand from the Minister's previous contribution that the existing prohibition on returning a verdict of suicide arises because such a finding involves investigation and consideration of the criminal liability of the deceased person for his own death and is therefore prohibited under section 30 of the Coroners Act, 1962. I attempted to overcome this in my Bills in 1992 and 1993 but I understand from the Minister's statement to this House on 28 April last that once the offence of suicide is abolished, a finding of suicide will not attribute criminal liability to any person. I understand that complicity in suicide will be an offence but provided the inquest does not investigate or consider who aided and abetted the suicide there is no conflict with section 30 of the Coroners Act. My understanding from the Minister's submission on this issue is that, as and from the day this Bill is enacted in law — hopefully, in a month's time — coroners will be in a position to bring in verdicts of suicide at inquests. I ask the Minister to confirm this because it has implications for Committee Stage.

While I still have some reservations regarding the public identification of suicide victims because of the traumatic effect on the bereaved, I accept the Minister's view that the blanket of silence should be removed and that it is not in the long term interests of those who have to overcome bereavement that the reality should be covered up. My previous proposals in this area allowed for the issue in a case of self-inflicted death to be considered in private by the coroner. The Minister's view is that such an approach would be dubious in the extreme and would run counter to the purpose of inquests which is to determine publicly the identify of the deceased and how, when and where death occurred. The proposal for two types of procedure is not unique. This is practised extensively on the Continent where there are quite sophisticated approaches in Sweden and in Switzerland. However, the Minister decided to go further in this area than I thought acceptable to society today. I accept this and I am in favour of opening up the whole area of suicide, removing the stigma and taboo that surrounds it, and bringing Ireland into the 20th century in the way it reacts to the issue.

Before I leave the coroner's hearing, I would like to refer briefly to the procedures involved which have been raised with me by the Samaritans and the Friends of the Suicide Bereaved on several occasions. Attendance at inquests is one of the hardest parts of the suicide bereavement experience. The trauma experienced in public by members of the family is extreme, with the bereaved often obliged to wait around in court listening to sad, tragic cases. Surely waiting rooms could be provided where relatives could remain until their case is heard. Everything should be done to ensure that the dignity of the bereaved of suicides, and indeed the bereaved of any tragedy, should be respected. I would ask the Minister to look at the whole approach to the presence of bereaved families at the inquests of their loves ones.

The Bill before us is similar to the Bill I introduced in 1991. There are three sections in both, and the core of the Bill is that suicide shall cease to be a crime. I welcome section 1 (2) of the Bill which state that this Act shall come into operation one month after the date of its passing.

Section 2 (2) is a very important aspect of the Bill in that it introduces criminal liability for complicity in suicide, stating:

A person who aids, abets, counsels, or procures the suicide of another, or an attempt by another to commit suicide, shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable on conviction on indictment to imprisonment for a term not exceeding fourteen years.

My original Bill specified a period of ten years, but I do not have any problem with the new proposal.

Nothing must undermine the sanctity of human life or the general view of society that suicide, even though it will not be illegal, is a dreadful offence against nature. The sanctity of life is the rock on which our society is formed. We must ensure that there is no movement towards putting a cost on preserving human life, and section 2 (2) of the Bill ensures that this is not changed in law. The wording of the section is almost identical to that of my Bills of 1991, 1992 and 1993.

Now that the debate on decriminalising suicide has almost been completed, a debate must take place on reducing the levels of suicide and understanding the issue. We must have a sane, rational and compassionate approach to those who commit, or attempt to commit, suicide. We must also understand the special bereavement problems of the families and friends of the victims. Seven out of every ten people are affected in some way by the suicide of a member of their family or a friend. The pressures of modern day living have changed our society. There is extreme pressure to succeed and avoid failure, as judged by our peers. We set standards and expectations for our young that places extreme pressure on them, while the fear of failure can bring about further pressures. Are our value systems changing to a degree that makes life unbearable for those who cannot achieve our sometimes unrealistic goals? Are changes in the cohesion of society, the high levels of unemployment, and the changes in traditional values, having a greater effect on our people than we realise?

We need urgent research into the dramatic increase in suicide and attempted suicide amongst all age groups, but especially the young. Society must change its attitude to those who attempt to commit suicide. In most cases those who attempt suicide, if hospitalised, are given a quick psychiatric assessment and returned to the community. The attitude in hospitals to such people often reflects attitudes in the community at large: "they are taking up a bed for someone who is genuinely ill", or, "they are taking up scarce medical resources required for people who really need them". This is a symptom of society's ignorance of the social, and even pathological, disease that suicide and attempted suicide represent.

We must embark on an intensive programme of education and discussion to change our outmoded medieval attitudes. Society must realise that this is a social disease. We must treat it and must acknowledge the relationship between suicide rates and other changes in society, including the levels of unemployment. We must realise that a changing society, a secular society and a society that is less cohesive will have an increase in suicide rates. That has been the experience in other countries. We must acknowledge and deal with such a problem. People who become suicidal must know that they are not alone, that help is available, that their extreme despair is at most a transitory emotion, and that society recognises their position as a health problem which can be treated. An intensive educational programme is required to reach this stage, and it must not be delayed. We must develop anti-suicide programmes.

I acknowledge the Minister's statement on the difficulties involved with, and her approach to, suicide in prisons. Fine Gael's motion No. 18 on today's Order Paper deals precisely with this issue and refers to suicide rates in prison, as well as calling on the Government to introduce the suicide prevention strategy in prisons as recommended by the 1991 Advisory Committee on Prison Deaths. The motion also calls for improved psychological services for prisoners, in addition to allowing the Samaritans to have access to prisoners. I raised this point earlier with the Minister and I am pleased with her response today. Perhaps she would look at item 18 on today's Order Paper which details the changes Fine Gael is calling on the Government to introduce.

I thank everybody who supported the decriminalising of suicide including those who contacted me over the years, and particularly the psychiatric service personnel who urged us to continue with our aims. I hope today we are beginning to recognise suicide for what it is — a public health issue and not a crime.

I welcome the Minister to the House. I accept the Minister's explanation regarding the delay in introducing the Bill, and I join in thanking Senator Neville for his input and concern which was welcomed by everybody. The Minister has rightly recognised the important contribution made by Senator Neville.

It is not easy to talk about the subject matter of this Bill. I come from a part of Donegal that has had its share of problems with a number of young people taking their own lives. The Minister indicated in her contribution that those at high risk are young boys between 15 and 16 years of age. I welcome the decriminalising of suicide, as will many parents who have suffered in this way. It is a very sad time for any family.

The Minister indicated certain factors that give rise to suicide, including, "physical and mental illness, alcoholism, personality structure and social isolation". Another factor is the life image projected on the screen. I know we cannot blame television for all our ills and failures, yet there is an image which is projected in advertisements showing the glamorous life that some people are accustomed to in certain areas. It is hard in these circumstances for young people to understand how their own seeming failure is brought about.

Some young people do not have the courage to accept their lot in life and to hope for and work towards their future. Many young people are disappointed when they find themselves with less than their neighbours or with less than the world appears to have in goods, wealth and prosperity. This problem will become greater. One may argue it is a matter for the Minister for Health or the health boards. It is also a matter for the educational authorities in primary and secondary schools. This is not a taboo subject to be avoided.

I have met many families where young people committed suicide. In one tragic case, two boys in one family killed themselves. To have suicide classified as a criminal offence on top of the loss is more than should be imposed on any family. The Bill is welcome. All legislation takes time to come to this stage.

I have a query about the use of the word "committed". Does the use of the phrase "committed suicide" indicate an offence? If a different word is available I suggest we use it.

Everyone in public life has met families where there has been a suicide and has had the unpleasant task of being present there. On three occasions I have called upon people contemplating suicide. I took an approach which I did not take from a book and might have been unorthodox. I tried to counsel those people by saying no-one could help them and it was a personal decision. I said people could not give them advice after the fact. I said I had studied life and had attended many funerals of young and old. I had noticed that in the early morning a graveyard is a lonely place. I suggested that a person contemplating suicide spend one night there while alive and assess their lot after that. One would be a long time in the graveyard, for a definite duration. I do not know whether my advice was followed but none of the three committed suicide.

The reality of suicide must be impressed upon anyone who contemplates it. There is no better way than to suggest such a person spend a night in a graveyard. One will have no difficulty deciding after that. The Minister says it depends who is with you in the graveyard. That is the lighter side of the issue.

The saddest function one performs is attending the funeral of a young person. One walks away from the grave and no words can express the sense of tragedy that a young life is left behind cemetery walls. I do not claim to have a solution but one must extend friendship and concern to families affected by this problem.

I urge that attention be paid to danger signs at primary and secondary level. Children may be indicating distress by remaining isolated or not getting involved in play groups or the social life of a school. Attempts should be made and facilities provided to identify these high risk children.

This Bill is a great step forward. Nationally, there is no conflict on the issue. We had difficulties bringing the Bill to implementation. Nevertheless it is important to have a Bill accepted by all parties. In decriminalising suicide, we have taken a step towards relieving the burden of guilt on the bereaved. I thank the Minister for her concern, input and reasonable approach to this important legislation which is a significant achievement. It may not gain headlines tomorrow but it is a humane piece of legislation, long overdue. I commend the Bill to the House.

I thank the Minister. Like everyone else I welcome the Bill to the House. Tribute must be paid to Senator Neville who has pursued this matter for several years. He was told once there would be an immediate response but immediate meant years. I was glad when the current Minister promised an immediate response there was one.

During the reading of Senator Neville's Bill here I was critical of what went on in the prisons. I thank the Minister for her prompt response to me on that occasion and for her speech today. It is dreadful that people who have been incarcerated, often for petty crimes, cannot be given 24 hour surveillance. It is impossible to provide the money needed for that and therefore people sometimes commit suicide in prison cells. I compliment her for what she has done in this regard.

Coroners are also due praise. For many years they have pressed for the decriminalisation of suicide. Dr Bartley Sheehan of Dún Laoghaire has been vociferous on this issue. A large number of suicides are dealt with in the Coroner's Court. The possibility of it being labelled a criminal offence is an added hardship.

The medical profession have been dealing with attempted suicide for a long time. Definite figures are difficult to obtain but I was appalled to see recently that for every suicide there may be 50 attempts. It is important to remember this is not just an Irish problem, it happens internationally. We can look at other countries to see what can be learned from their efforts to decrease the incidence of suicide in their jurisdictions.

It is always stressed how sad suicide is among the young. It is terrible that those in their twenties with their lives before them experience such despair. The average age for suicide is actually 41. A large number of old and lonely people who feel their lives have been entirely useless, commit suicide.

I draw the Minister's attention to the fact that schoolchildren commit suicide. I am glad the Stay Safe programme lays major emphasis on bullying and attempts to confront that problem. It is important to attempt to do something with that because very often when these sad cases are investigated, the victims who commit suicide have themselves been victims of serious bullying at school. There must be a considered approach to the issue. While unemployment, depression, previous psychiatric illness and other such factors are important, there is a range of other factors which occur at different age groups. It is a large ethical and moral issue that must be examined.

Section 2 of the Bill is of great importance to the medical, nursing and paramedical professions, and also to the family and friends of a very ill or incapacitated person who may wish to commit suicide. There are some people whose life becomes so unbearable that this is their wish. I am not referring to euthanasia, but rather the conscious wish of the person. It is important to undertake a long philosophical examination of this issue. It is not an issue we have considered in this country, however it has become a serious problem, particularly in the USA.

I welcome the fact that the Minister has indicated that proceedings cannot be taken against any person for aiding, abetting, counselling or procuring except by the Director of Public Prosecutions. This is important for the medical profession, including nurses and paramedics, who can encounter considerable trouble in this area. For example, in a recent medical defence report, the widower of a woman who committed suicide tried to have her doctor brought before a disciplinary committee because the doctor had prescribed 30 anti-depressant tablets for his wife, two to be taken each day. The woman ingested all 30 tablets together and the widower alleged that the doctor should have known his wife would take them in order to commit suicide.

Senator Maloney would agree that it would be impossible to supervise every person who was given 30 anti-depressant tablets. Furthermore, if any doctor or paramedic who prescribed such tablets were to be charged with aiding, abetting, counselling or procuring a very serious situation would arise. However, it is important to note in this debate that events like this can happen. Fortunately, in this case the disciplinary committee did not agree with the complaint and considered the doctor's actions to be within reasonable medical practice.

Normal medical treatment which the patient misuses to commit suicide cannot be foreseen by a doctor. However, there are situations in other jurisdictions where patients who wished to commit suicide have been allowed to do so. For example, in Canada there was the case of a girl who was a quadriplegic from a car accident and could not survive without the resuscitator on which she was dependent. After two and a half years she appealed to the courts to allow her to have the respirator turned off as she had a right to die. She was living in a room where all she could do was watch television and it was modern medicine that was keeping her alive. The Canadian courts acceded to her request.

All human life is scared, and that is recognised in this country. However, the intervention of modern medicine can keep many people alive for a long time when only a few short years ago they would have died. How are the rights of such people, who are mentally competent, to be addressed? Are we in a position to decide what is in their best interest?

This issue is different from euthanasia. The law can appear illogical. On the one hand, one could allow a respitator to be turned off, and the person smothers to death; or one could allow a person to starve to death — I hope force feeding would not be advocated; or a person could be allowed refuse medical treatment on grounds of religious belief, such as the Jehovah's Witnesses who do not accept blood transfusions, but on the other, lethal injections for people who are dying in pain are outlawed.

These are decisions which we make as a society and I do not advocate any specific approach to them. However, from a philosophical, ethical and moral viewpoint, they are decisions which must be carefully considered, especially because of changes in modern medicine. For many people, quality of life is more important than the length of life. For example, when a great athlete gets older and has trouble walking he might consider that to be a severe problem but to me, a person who was never interested in athletics, this would not be a problem. People's view of life varies and it is important that we adopt an active approach to this problem.

I have viewed developments in medicine in America over the past 20 years. America is at the cutting edge of hightech medicine, and it has an ageing population. Serious problems have arisen there regarding the quality of life of older people. Approximately 25 per cent of the money people in America spend on medical care is expanded in the last six months of their lives. In this context "living wills" are becoming common in America and elsewhere. When a person is fully competent and before the onset of any serious illness, he can request his doctor and his nearest and dearest not to take any extraordinary measures to prevent death. It is important to distinguish this process from assisted suicide.

This issue requires urgent consideration, especially in view of a recent survey of American hospital doctors. Two of the statistics in the survey are disturbing. First, 70 per cent of respondents said they felt that they overtreated patients who were approaching death. This is not something we would like to think would happen to us or to anyone we love. Second, 70 per cent of respondents thought they under-treated their patients with analgesia because they were too afraid that if the analgesia shortened the patient's life they would be accused of hastening their death. This is not the philosophy of the hospice, and I would not like it to become the norm in this country. We must be careful about overtreatment of patients, including prolonged periods in intensive care units hooked up to machines with tubes in every orifice and, worse still, withholding drugs, such as morphine.

Administering morphine to a dying patient is not going to make that patient a drug addict. Patients have a right to drugs; they should not be subjected to an undignified death because of the views of those treating them. This is an area that needs to be opened to much wider consideration. I am glad Senator Neville pressed to have this Bill introduced.

Stillbirths were not talked about for many years, but when they were brought into the public arena people were able to cope much better with the death of a child. It has been suggested that decriminalising suicide would make it more difficult for bereaved families because coroners could say that deaths were due to suicide. I do not think this will be the case. The present situation is tragic because the bereaved cannot seek help and comfort from those around them by discussing what has happened. This makes it more difficult for them.

Controversy about lack of analgesia and the overuse of intensive care and high technology medicine for people who are dying is closely connected with the fact that doctors fear legal action by relatives if they do not do all in their power to keep patients alive. Situations where the wishes of patients are overridden by relatives are difficult to deal with because death with dignity is desired by most of us.

This is totally different from the situation in England recently where a doctor in Wiltshire, Dr. Nigel Cox, gave a lethal injection of potassium chloride, which has no analgesic powers, to a longtime patient of his who was in terrible pain and wished to die. This doctor could have been charged with murder but for the fact that his patient's body had been cremated. He was charged with attempted murder and received a suspended sentence because of this history of his relationship with the patient over such a long time.

It is very important that it be an offence to aid, abet, or counsel another person to commit suicide. There are situations where this is happening. For example, in Michigan until very recently the law on aiding and abetting suicide was very lax. I believe it was the only state in the US where it was not a crime. A doctor in Detroit, whom the American popular press called "Dr. Death" but whose real name was Dr. Kevorkian, perfected a suicide machine which he kept in the back of a van. Patients who wished to commit suicide, most of whom were terminally ill, consulted him. After he discussed the matter with patients, who were sometimes accompanied by relatives, he brought them into the van, inserted needles in their arms and asked them to press a button which gave a lethal injection. This is so horrific it is unbelievable, but it shows what can happen in the absence of laws prohibiting the aiding and abetting of suicide. The doctor was certainly involved in the deaths of nine people before legislation was enacted which outlawed aiding and abetting suicide. One of the nine was a 53-year-old woman who thought she had Alzheimer's disease. The main reason given for this diagnosis was that while she could still play tennis she found it very hard to keep the score.

This is a very important Bill and I hope it will be considered very carefully on Committee Stage. This Bill should initiate a national debate on this issue. We will all grow older. The elderly represent an increasing proportion of our population. When an uncle of mine died in America following what I consider gross over treatment, his widow's only plea to us was that we would not allow her to be admitted to hospital prior to her death. We managed to do that. I certainly would not like a situation where the wishes of patients are overridden.

I welcome the Minister to the House and I welcome her statement on Senator Neville's Bill to decriminalise suicide. I congratulate him on the work he has done in this area.

I worked in the psychiatric service for many years and have seen many cases of suicide where people hanged themselves, slashed their wrists or throats, immersed themselves in boiling water of 250 degrees Fahrenheit and died from shock or took tablets from hospital trolleys when staff were under pressure at night. One's concern afterwards is for the parents. It is more difficult for bereaved families to cope with deaths from suicide than deaths from road accidents or serious illnesses. Parents and relatives of suicide victims even after 15 or 20 years still talk about these deaths and still feel stigmatised.

Suicides in Ireland increased fourfold in the 20 years to 1988. That is the figure for recorded suicides. I have no doubt that the real figure is much higher. People are reluctant to disclose that a relative has committed suicide and give other reasons for sudden death. Until 1988 the figure for male suicides in Ireland was 12.2 per 100,000. Surprisingly, the rate of female suicides was 3.4 per 100,000, almost a quarter of the male figure. We may have something to learn from these statistics.

It is difficult to collect suicide statistics. It is unacceptable for coroners to bring in a verdict of suicide. They have to record death from suspected suicide as self-induced. The rural suicide rate in Ireland is much higher than the urban rate. Loneliness and isolation may be two of the main reasons for this.

The suicide rate among prisoners increased dramatically in recent years, especially among younger prisoners. It is perfectly understandable in the liberal times in which we live that young people find it very hard to be locked up and accept the prison regime, which is tough. They are institutionalised, taken out of society and are away from their family and loved ones. All this probably increases the possibility of suicide.

Suicide is not a disease, it is the result of a number of factors, usually emotional ones such as guilt and sorrow. It is wrong to classify as a crime the committing of suicide by a person left to face life alone after a bereavement. That is why I welcome this Bill. The present law in my estimation is an ass and it is good to see it being removed. Shame and fear are other reasons for committing suicide. We may never unearth all of the reasons. Increases in suicide have corresponded with increases in drug and alcohol abuse. These problems come to the fore in our liberalised society. Increased suicide figures seem to be connected with these trends. In the areas where I worked young men seemed to be more susceptible to suicide than females. Many attempted and actual suicides took place as a result of broken romances which young men were unable to accept. That women can take such events better says much about the female character.

Unemployment also leads people to commit suicide. Such cases have recently been highlighted by the media. The sad case in Limerick comes to mind. Marriage problems are another cause, especially when one spouse leaves another. Religious beliefs also have an effect, a recent example was the mass suicide in America by members of a religious cult. In Ireland sexual problems have been highlighted dramatically in recent years, maybe at times for the wrong reasons. These problems are also a cause of suicide. Suicide may seem to be way out of situations such as the rape of a young girl and incest within a family with which people may not be able to cope because of the hangups society seems to have. Suicides in some areas seem to have a spiral effect. A suicide by one person seems to encourage others to do the same. Senator McGowan mentioned that this happens in Donegal where both he and I live. This is a very sad situation.

What can be done in situations where suicide is a possibility? It is advantageous when a person is admitted to a psychiatric hospital to know if he or she has suicidal tendencies. Nursing a person with a suicidal tendency is one of the toughest jobs imaginable. One must ensure that such persons do not commit suicide. Praise is due to the psychiatric staff in Ireland for their care of suicidal persons. I worked in St. Conal's Psychiatric Hospital in Letterkenny, County Donegal where nursing and medical staff often spend months rehabilitating suicidal men and women.

What happens when people who admit themselves to hospital decide to leave of their own accord? Nursing staff do not have the right to keep them in hospital, even though they may be suicidal and their parents concerned. However, will the parents decide to commit them to hospital even when they know suicide is a possibility? Often, parents do not and people die.

Research in the psychiatric services shows that 50 per cent of the people who have committed suicide intended to do so and had made previous attempts. This is a high figure and it gives an indication of the task ahead.

We must be aware of warning signs. However, I remember the case of a 15-year-old who was participating in a hospital programme to help him overcome depression. Half an hour before he was due to be discharged, he hung himself with a leather belt. He had not given any indication of his intention to commit suicide.

Suicidal people have been discharged from psychiatric hospitals. This concerns me because the psychiatric services are now sending many people back into the community. There is a lack of proper back up facilities for these people, some of whom should not be discharged. The Department of Health should ensure that proper back up facilities and care are provided for people who are being discharged from psychiatric hospitals. I would not like to think people are being discharged for economic reasons. Many go back into their own communities and are unable to cope after being institutionalised for twenty years.

Countries such as America and Canada have intervention programmes in the form of educational and mental health programmes and specific suicide programmes. I ask the Minister for Justice, Deputy Geoghegan-Quinn, to examine the possibility of introducing such programmes in Ireland.

I also send a warning to the media which often sensationalises the Irish suicide problem. They should give more assistance to the general public by featuring articles about what can be done to assist suicidal people. We read about the sensational cases, but not enough is being done to alleviate the problem. The media should work with the Department of Education and the Department of Health to prevent suicide.

Many psychiatric staff are trained as therapists enabling them to talk to the suicidal person and to develop their trust in a one-to-one relationship. The results from counselling and therapy are significant. Many people leaving hospitals are more positive and assertive because of the help they have received. They have learnt to control their problem.

The Samaritans do a tremendous job. However, as a voluntary organisation they are unable to provide this service in rural areas where it is badly needed. Recently I read about the telephone charges. I hope the Samaritans are not affected because for people who talk to them on the telephone for a considerable length of time it may mean the difference between life and death. This point should be taken into consideration and the Samaritans commended for the work they do.

Other groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Gamblers Anonymous must also be supported because they too bring to the attention of the authorities and the medical people the fact that certain people intend to commit suicide. People have been saved as a result of their action.

I welcome the Bill to decriminalise suicide. How can a person be charged when they are dead? Primary intervention is needed to stop suicide. The health boards have a major role to play in this area. A life skills programme will educate people early about the help which is available. The public must be made aware of that help before they take that final step. I call on the Minister for Health, Deputy Howlin, to develop a national policy on suicide prevention.

I support the Bill and I hope it will be passed quickly in the Seanad.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Criminal Law (Suicide) (No. 2) Bill, 1993. I welcome the Minister for Justice, Deputy Geoghegan-Quinn, to the House. We were disappointed the Minister initiated this Bill in the Dáil, rather than in the Seanad. I know the Minister was not directly responsible for this but that it happened because of a lack of Government legislation making the Minister a victim of Government. I know the Minister intended to reintroduce it here rather than in the other House.

I was disappointed the Minister did not accept Senator Neville's Bill. The Minister's Bill, as introduced in the Dáil and now in the Seanad, is almost identical to that Bill, with the exception of a few minor changes in the terminology. However, I am pleased the Minister has acknowledged in her speech the efforts of Senator Neville over a number of years to highlight this important issue and to register it in the Department of Justice as a matter requiring urgent attention. I am delighted the Minister and the Department of Justice have finally responded and that this legislation is almost complete.

It is ridiculous that suicide is a crime because it is impossible to take a dead person to court, as Senator Maloney said. It is now time to remove suicide from the list of indictable offences on our Statute Book. The issue must be treated with sensitivity, compassion and understanding.

Many Irish families have been affected by the tragedy of suicide. In many areas, even today, reference will be made to the fact that a certain member of a family committed suicide 50 years ago. As a result, the family's sanity may be questioned. This is sad and it shows that society is not aware of the reasons why people commit suicide.

Other Senators have attempted to identify the many reasons why suicide is committed. We must acknowledge that many who commit suicide are extra sensitive and are unable to cope with the pressures and difficulties of modern society. We have not identified these difficulties or responded to the serious circumstances in which people find themselves.

We must have an open national discussion about the reasons for suicide and about the lack of facilities and support for potential victims. Yesterday Mother Teresa was conferred with the Freedom of the City. During her address to the people she referred to the dearth of neighbourliness and the lack of community support. People experience not only financial poverty, but also poverty of relationship and community. People who feel that there is no concern for them in their family or community are often driven to suicide. In this modern society where people are always in a hurry and operate under severe pressure, we must depend on people close to them, whether in their own family or in their neighbourhood, to watch for signs of difficulties, and if they see such signs, to be prepared to take action. Because of their inhibitions, people are often reluctant to make the necessary advance. In some cases I have heard about if people had only had the courage and confidence in themselves to talk and relate to people who have stresses and difficulties some of these unfortunate instances could have been avoided.

There is no point talking about the past. We need to look to the future and perhaps the Minister for Justice, with the Minister of Education, could ensure that this matter is covered in second level education. Young people come under stress. It is not unusual in their exam years, particularly at leaving certificate and in the early years at university, for them to experience pressure and to feel unable to cope. Others around them might be in a position to recognise this if they were alerted and had been educated in this area.

With regard to the social services and psychiatric services, I am worried about the level of support being provided at local level at present. In recent years we have seen psychiatric patients leaving psychiatric hospitals and going into community care. Unfortunately, the necessary support is not being provided for community care at ground level and many difficulties have arisen and many suicides have occurred as a result. This area must be urgently examined. Voluntary groups have done great work in this regard; the Samaritans have already been complimented here today. They are one group and many others have done great work providing support and help for these unfortunate people who are under stress, and many of these groups have prevented people taking their own lives. There is a need for stronger professional support on the ground.

Senator Maloney referred to the difficulties which the psychiatric services have in dealing with the situation. There seems to be a reluctance among some medical personnel to commit a person for psychiatric care. They are inclined to try to treat the person at home and often not give them the care necessary. This can be due to a lack of facilities in various institutions, and that is extremely unfortunate. This issue affects thousands of families who are traumatised by a suicide. Many of them find it difficult to cope and we must provide a support service for them. It is important that the local community, neighbours and friends, provide the support that is essential. Rather than shunning the families, they should talk to them. People often feel awkward and embarrassed and do not know how to make the necessary approach. That is unfortunate. Much of this is due to the stigma the community attaches to suicide. Thankfully that has reduced in recent years but in some areas it still exists.

I hope that, as a result of the decriminalisation of suicide there will be a greater public understanding of suicide. However, that can only occur through discussion in this House and public discussion generally. Only then will suicide be seen for what it is, only then will the trauma suffered by families be recognised, only then will the factors that can lead a potential victim to suicide be recognised and the necessary preventative measures taken.

I compliment Senator Neville for his consistent, diligent and genuine approach over the past two or three years to bring this matter to public attention. I also compliment him for introducing three Bills in this House. He succeeded in getting the Department to introduce the necessary legislation. I would also like to compliment the present Minister for introducing this important Bill; had it been another Minister it might not have happened. I wish her well and I hope she will be in a position to tackle other important issues which, for a variety of reasons, have not been tackled by former Ministers. She has the will and the determination not to stand back and that she will take on the work ahead of her with diligence and courage which is her hallmark.

I welcome the Minister and congratulate her for introducing this Bill. It is a positive step forward for all of us who deal with young people who face tremendous pressures. I am happy to see the Bill decriminalise this taboo which has existed in society for many years and it will allow us to look at this subject in a new light. The taboo nature of suicide reminds me of tuberculosis — in the past it could not even be mentioned but now it can be spoken about.

In the past 20 years the pressures of life have been one of the main causes of suicide. I would like to refer particularly to the pressures of the university points system. This is an area in which I have experience and I have come across many young people who, because of the pressure of getting points for university or being pressurised by their parents into a particular lifestyle or career, have attempted or committed suicide. This has been a cause of distress and this trauma will remain with families for the rest of their lives. Suicide is often the result of an emotional upset, but it is something a family will never forget.

We need to talk about suicide and bring it out into the open. If not, it will be swept under the carpet and we will be back to square one. I am glad the Minister has opened the subject, but we need to ask to what extent society can adapt to that attitude. The first step should be through our education system. I know the Minister has a strategy in relation to attempted suicides in prison. We must see how best we can prevent suicides in our prisons. Having read the Minister's speech we should try to involve the Department of Education more. Perhaps young people, who feel they have nothing to live for, who are suffering from posttraumatic stress and who are unable to cope, could avail of second chance education. We must involve counsellors and psychologists. I am aware that the Minister has increased the number of counsellors and psychologists in the prison system. These young people should be removed from the prison system and rehabilitated through our education system. This would be a welcome development.

We must also involve the family. In the past, we tended to work in isolation. We all have a role to play, but we must not work in isolation. This is an extended area and we must involve parents, family, relations and medical personnel.

Senator Henry spoke about psychotherapy versus medication. Perhaps we should move away from medication towards psychotherapy. I have experience in this area and, while medication is important, I believe psychotherapy on a one-to-one basis deserves priority. The Department of Justice and the Department of Health must allocate sufficient funds to this area.

We must decriminalise suicide and make it a non taboo subject. Suicide may often be attributed to family problems, including marital breakdown. Some young people grow up in an unstable environment. They are unable to cope and internalise everything that happens to them. The prevention of suicide begins in the family. I realise that part of the prevention process necessitates the decriminalisation of suicide. The Minister is guiding us in the right direction by opening up this subject.

I welcome the Minister to the House and I am glad the Minister paid tribute to the work of my colleague, Senator Neville. Regrettably, the way in which this Bill was treated is an indication of the contempt in which this House is held by Government. This is made clear every day in this House. The Independent Senators must work in conditions which break EC regulations and the factories Act. Our secretarial staff have served notice that they have involved their trade unions. Nothing is being done because we are backbench Senators.

I only gave the Senator water.

I ask for an office and I am given water. I am not so easily bought. Today we received the printed reports of a committee which met in this Chamber, something we were promised would not happen again after it occurred in the last session. These reports were printed within one week of the meeting, yet, we must wait one month for the Seanad report of an important debate on AIDS. The media did not see fit to report the debate, although they print the dangerous lies of some of the reactionary groups in this area. It is difficult for people in this House trying to put forward serious ideas when——

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

I ask the Senator to speak on the Criminal Law (Suicide) (No. 2) Bill.

The Minister has acknowledged the work done by this House. I believe she regrets the fact that this Bill was taken from this House to fill a deficiency in the other House. That kind of behaviour is unacceptable.

It is important that this legislation is passed. We should not worry unduly over the name attributed to it. It is important that suicide is decriminalised.

The Minister highlighted some interesting facts in relation to suicide. It is tragic that young men between the ages of 15 and 25 are a high risk category. I welcome the Minister's other proposals in, for example, the area of homosexual law reform. This is a concealed factor. Although I know six people who were murdered, one of whom, a pastor of the Baptist church in Paris, was murdered by the French secret police, I do not know directly anyone who has committed suicide because of being gay. I know a number of people who have committed suicide, including a professional colleague who became depressed because of the conditions in which he was working. I understand, however, that suicide is more likely to occur in the 15 to 25 year age group if the individual is homosexual. It is a way out for those who have not come to terms with their sexuality.

I do not admire suicide; it is an act of aggression. It is not only an act of aggression against the self, but it is an act of aggression against the family or the colleagues of the individual, who are often devastated by the suicide. It is appropriate to decriminalise the offence of suicide and attempted suicide.

The Minister outlined the historical background to this offence. It was not created by statute but by the unwritten law of England as interpreted by judges. The Minister can not offer a satisfactory explanation as to why suicide became a criminal offence, other than it was regarded as self-murder.

I have recently been reading the history of the early papacy. The Minister may not be aware of the tradition among early medieval popes of exhuming the remains of their predecessors. They then tried them for heresy and executed the corpses.

They do that here.

Perhaps this offence has an ecclesiastical background.

The Minister pointed out that the property of a person who committed suicide was forfeited and the surviving relatives were disinherited, thus compounding their grief.

There was a practice in England where people were buried at a crossroads with a stake through their hearts. This affords me the opportunity to introduce the subject of James Joyce's Ulysses. In the Hades episode, there is a poignant discussion on suicide in the carriage on the way to Glasnevin cemetery. This discussion emanated from the attempted suicide of a young man, Reuben J. Dodd. One of the characters intervenes to say that suicide is the worst offence of all, not realising that Leopold Bloom's father had committed suicide in the Queen's hotel in Ennis, County Clare, by taking aconite. Bloom recalls that people were buried at a crossroads with a stake through their hearts, as if the heart was not broken already.

The Minister is addressing this human factor in this enlightened Bill. It is inhumane to arraign before a criminal court people who have been placed in circumstances so distressing that they make an attempt upon their own lives and then further to penalise them under the criminal law rather than deal with them in a therapeutic situation. I am glad the Minister has seen fit to lighten this burden by the introduction of this Bill.

I have one reservation about the Bill. Section 2 (2) makes it an offence for any person to aid, abet, counsel or procure the suicide or an attempt at suicide of another person. It seems illogical that assisting somebody to commit an act which is no longer criminal is in itself a criminal offence. I understand some of the reasoning because it has been put to me that, for example, in the case of an elderly person with substantial property, undue psychological pressure might be placed upon them to encourage them to take the easy way out — particularly easy for the relatives if they were hoping to inherit. I acknowledge this difficulty but I am aware of situations where assistance in suicide was not only honourable but was also a morally desirable act. It is one which I would not have the courage to perform, but I know people who have.

My colleague, Senator Henry, has spoken on the medical aspects and she is particularly qualified to speak in this area. It is good that we have somebody of this standing to contribute such material to our debate. She may have mentioned a case which I discussed with Senator Neville during a previous debate on this Bill. I cannot remember the name of the woman involved, but the doctor was a Dr. Nigel Cox. The patient suffered from rheumatoid arthritis and was in the last extremities of agony. Her son described her as howling in pain like a dog and begging to be assisted out of this appalling situation. The doctor gave her an injection of potassium chloride, which is a salt, and apparently this painlessly put her down. The family expressed considerable gratitude.

The doctor was brought before a disciplinary tribunal and censured. He did not lose his licence but he was reprimanded and his career was clearly affected. It seems to me that he acted humanely. The woman was in the terminal stages of an illness, racked with pain, covered with bedsores and in an appalling state. A dog in a similar state would be put down. Why should we treat a human being with less compassion? Is it criminal to assist somebody's mother, brother, sister, aunt, lover, somebody they cared about, to end such appalling pain? I think he was a good and caring doctor and all his colleagues believed the same, but because of the state of the law in England he had to be disciplined and his career has been seriously affected. He could easily have been sent to jail.

This is the kind of provision which is being introduced here and I regret it. I understand the argument that people may be put under some kind of pressure but at the same time it is wrong and illogical to make assisting at a non-criminal offence, a criminal offence itself.

I was very moved when a close friend of mine in Israel, who is a most fastidious person, gave up his job when one of our friends, called Rafi, developed AIDS. Rafi's friend was in the airforce and could not look after him. My friend looked after him for six weeks in situations of considerable discomfort and uncleanliness. The man became incontinent and so on and died. A second friend of ours became ill with AIDS. He believed he was in a monogamous relationship, but unfortunately his partner was not monogamous and both of them contracted AIDS. This man died on his own, apart from the assistance which my friend Ezra gave to him. In the terminal stages, when he was no longer physically capable of administering whatever poisons he had accumulated with the intention of giving himself a dignified exit, he asked my friend to assist him to die, which he did. I found that an act of extraordinary courage and moral nobility.

I do not believe that I would have the courage to assist at a suicide, although I have never been placed in that situation. I believe it was the right thing to do in that case. If somebody whom one really cares about is in extraordinary distress, pain and discomfort, and if they know clearly what they are doing and they beg one to help them to end their life in dignity, which may be just a matter of 24, 36 or 48 hours, I believe it is a moral act to do so and I do not believe that it should be punished. I accept that there are arguments in this matter but on balance I would come down on that side.

I am slightly worried about section 2 (3) because, as the Minister explained, it allows the introduction of a verdict of assisting at suicide rather than murder or manslaughter in, for example, the case of a failed joint suicide in which only one person is successful in the act. I wonder what purpose is served by prosecuting the unsuccessful suicide. It should be a matter for therapeutic treatment rather than criminal prosecution, although it may be the Minister's intention, if I am reading it correctly, to reduce the severity of the accusation from one of manslaughter or murder to one of assisting at suicide. However, the penalties are very severe, in the region of 15 years imprisonment.

I have another reservation which concerns the involvement of the Director of Public Prosecutions. I wonder if the Minister is satisfied with the operation of that office. I certainly am not and I will inform the House why. It concerns legislation on incitement to hatred. I occasionally receive offensive material but I normally do not worry about it. I am sure the Minister receives similar post.

I have received very interesting post in recent weeks.

I am quite sure that in recent months the Minister has received some fairly interesting post, as I have. I imagine that she treats it with the same amused contempt as I do. Some prominent women citizens of Galway wrote to me enclosing the front page of a rag called The Galway Advertiser which was a clear incitement to hatred. On 8 April, because they were requesting me to take some action as they were so distressed about it, I sent it to the Director of Public Prosecutions. I did not receive any reply. I telephoned yesterday, and I was told there had been a mistake and that there was a letter in the pipeline. That letter was typed after my telephone call and it just stated baldly that they did not intend to prosecute. I would like to know why they do not intend prosecuting. It was a clear case of incitement to hatred and I am not satisfied that no action is being taken. I did not even receive the courtesy of the normal response which states that the office has received one's letter and it is being brought to the attention of the Minister or the Director of Public Prosecutions. If another group had been attacked would some action have been taken? I question the placing of this matter directly in the hands of an individual, whose judgment I occasionally suspect. I will leave it at that.

I am pleased that the Minister has addressed at some length the situation with regard to suicide in the prison service. This matter was been ventilated repeatedly in this House, especially by former Senator Costello who took a particular interest in this matter and raised it on several occasions. The Minister has indicated the various improvements which she is proposing in this area.

I conclude by saying that I welcome the Bill. It is a progressive and enlightened measure, as I would expect from this Minister. I have, however, a couple of reservations, the principal one being the introduction of an offence of assisting the commission of suicide.

I welcome the Minister and congratulate her on this legislation. I also congratulate Senator Neville who worked tirelessly for many years on what was, at times, an unpopular issue. The purpose of this Bill is to abolish the crime of suicide and thereby remove the stigma of criminality from those who feel that suicide is the only solution to their problems. For that fundamental reason I support this legislation.

When deliberating on the Bill we must never lose sight of the fact that suicide is a human tragedy. The American author, William Styron, in his revealing book on depression called Darkness Visible offers considerable insight into the feelings that lead to suicide. Ultimately he sees suicide as the final act of someone who can no longer tolerate the pain and suffering of life: it is an act of release, a final act of utter loneliness and despair. That is the true tragedy of suicide, a tragedy that leaves permanent scars on families and friends.

Those who commit suicide deserve our compassion; those whom it scars deserve our support. Moral indignation helps no-one. The Bill recognises the need for compassion. The criminalisation of suicide has done nothing to eliminate the problem and was originally introduced because male suicide deprived the king of a good fighting soldier. Instead the criminalisation of suicide has caused guilt and shame among friends and family of the deceased. Although no person has been prosecuted in this jurisdiction for attempted suicide since about 1967, the mere presence of the criminalising provision on the Statute Book had a stigmatising effect. This Bill marks a fundamental change in the State's approach to the problem of suicide. It heralds the dawn of a more enlightened attitude and demonstrates the progress made by a society which now recognises the value of therapy and counselling for potential suicide victims and for those bereaved by suicide.

The Bill is concise and in common with other speakers I would like to focus on section 2 (2) which deals with aiding, abetting and procuring the suicide of another. Unlike Senator Norris, I welcome this provision. Somebody who aids, abets, procures and counsels a suicide does not necessarily do so for altruistic reasons. It may not be a situation like that outlined by Senator Norris in which a man helped his friend, who was suffering from a severe illness, to commit suicide. Assistance to a suicide may be offered by somebody who has an ulterior motive: for example, to benefit through inheritance. Hence, this offence must be instituted.

The Bill deals only with the criminal law aspects of suicide. In 1990 and 1991 there were over 300 suicides each year, a harrowing figure that calls for an understanding of the severity of problems confronting people. One of the better known studies of the problem of suicide was conducted by Dr. Michael Kelleher, a consultant psychiatrist on suicide in Cork, and Miss Maura Daly, and was published in the British Journal of Psychiatry. They highlighted the many factors which probably, in their opinion, contribute towards the decision of an individual to commit suicide. Those included physical and mental illness, alcoholism, personality structure and social isolation.

There has been an alarming increase in recent years in the number of suicides in Irish prisons. I am glad the Government and the Department of Justice have undertaken to implement many of the recommendations made by an advisory group that was set up to look into the problem. We can only hope that in future the number of prison suicides can be kept to an absolute minimum. We cannot expect they will be eliminated because one cannot watch somebody all of the time and if a person is intent on committing suicide, unfortunately he or she will find a way and a time to do it.

Suicide as a criminal offence is a relic of a more brutal age when the property of a suicide could be declared forfeit to the State which was particularly traumatic for the bereaved family. The Bill not only abolishes the offence of suicide but also the offence of attempting to commit suicide. However, the act of abolition is only the beginning. In time it must be followed up with a wide ranging programme of support for potential suicides and bereaved families and friends. Compassion must be put into practise.

Studies in suicide are important if we are to understand the reasons for suicide. Knowing these reasons we can formulate health and social care policies that effectively address the problem. The most effective action is to recognise the potential suicide and, through counselling or other means, to avert the taking of life and lay the basis for a long term recovery. In Ireland the Samaritans deserve national praise for their work for the prevention of suicide. Without the Samaritans the Irish incidence of suicide would be much higher and they should be given every possible support not only from Members here but also by Government in future allocations of funds. The Samaritans have first hand experience of the anguish of the would-be suicide and are equivalent to emergency rescue services whose heroism is rightly praised.

The Minister's quick response to Senator Neville's request is a credit to her and confirms her intention of making the Irish legal system not only more humane but also more realistic.

This day must be a satisfying one for Senator Neville. He has laboured long in the vineyard and in Opposition one does not expect to see one's work bear fruit. The fact that this Bill will be passed is a well deserved tribute to him.

When I heard of the Minister's appointment to the Department of Justice I was delighted. The Department of Justice, of all Departments of State, is the Department most in need of a more humane image. One tries to encourage children to trust a uniform and to seek out a garda as the first refuge in times of trouble. Therefore, it is distressing to see scowling faces on members of the Force on the beat; they are more likely to send children reeling away than to encourage them to come forward. It is a defect in the training programme at Templemore that more emphasis is not placed on the importance of identifying with children and appearing approachable to them. Perhaps the Minister might examine that aspect of garda training which is particularly important in the light of current horrific disclosures of the sexual abuse of children. If it could be instilled in children that uniformed gardaí will respond sympathetically to their approach it would be a great comfort to the general community. The proper response to children should be an important element in garda training and I hope the Minister will ensure that it is.

I witnessed a suicide as a cabin boy on a tanker when I saw a member of the crew dive overboard. A frequent feature of suicide is its total unpredictability. People talk about the State's obligation to establish preventive structures. Sweden, of all States, is the one which had the best kind of all embracing social structures, yet it had a very high rate of suicide. It is not possible to legislate for all eventualities in this area. I was in Los Angeles a few years ago and I met a man called Jarvis who became famous — or infamous — depending on your viewpoint, for moving Proposition 13 in the state of California, which capped the State's ability to raise revenue, and led to the closure of some public services, mental hospitals in particular. The effects of this were immediately visible in Los Angeles. There was an enormous increase in the number of suicides.

The emphasis on community care is good but trying to close down large mental asylums overnight and pretending that the inmates can live in the community can be highly dangerous. I watched a television programme on BBC last year which showed the effects of closure of mental hospitals. The policy which led to such closures was well intended, but created havoc in the short term. We must take great care before we release long term inmates of mental hospitals into the community. Where appropriate, this must be done carefully but sometimes it cannot be done because people simple cannot cope outside a sheltered environment. They are totally institutionalised. However sorry we feel for them, there is only one place for them, and the State must recognise that.

I welcome the Bill, it is one of those pieces of English legislation which should have been repealed years ago. We inherited much ridiculous legislation, and I am glad that the Minister has the sense to repeal the more ridiculous parts. I commend her for that. People talked about the stigma attached to suicide. The stigma was never a legal stigma it arose from the sense of shame and failure the family experienced, which will never go away. We can, however, do much more to educate people so they can understand what happens when a person is in so much despair that they take their own lives. This education does not start in the Garda station or in the hospital, it starts in school when children are taught about these issues. I cannot imagine trying to explain to children that the State will prosecute them when they are dead. Now that this law has been repealed, we should start to teach children about the realities of life and, unfortunately, suicide is one of the realities of life.

Another area I would like the Minister to consider is, and it encompasses other Departments, is the attitude of insurance companies and State bodies to suicide. Suicide happens rarely, we would prefer it did not happen, but when it does we should not allow the insurance companies to use it as a loophole to avoid their responsibilities. In many cases they put extra strain on families already under tremendous pressure. We all know that insurance companies are notorious for trying to avoid their obligations by using the small print, and that is an area we must consider. The family members of a person who has committed suicide have to live with the consequences and anything that can be done to ease their burden should be done.

I pay tribute to the Garda Síochána for the very difficult job it has had up to now in investigating what must initially be treated as a murder inquiry. I know that this will not change greatly, but at least those investigating in the future will not treat it as a criminal act. I welcome the Minister's action in providing for an offence of aiding, abetting, procuring or counselling a suicide. This would be a very dangerous omission. Anybody with a couple of hundred acres of land would be very uneasy if that was not included in the Bill, and I am saying that in a lighthearted manner.

The last serious point I want to make, which was brought to my attention by a former prisoner, was in regard to a snide remark made about his wife, after a visit. It was a sexual remark by a prison officer to a prisoner, and nothing is more calculated to drive somebody insane than such a remark when the person at whom it is aimed is confined in prison. It should not be part of the custodial system and every prison officer inducted to prison service should be told this. It should be an indictable offence to make that kind of remark to a prisoner. I ask the Minister to consider this point. I know how difficult a prison officer's job is, but even one remark is unacceptable in that situation.

I will conclude by paying tribute to Senator Neville and all his hard work. I look forward to the Minister's reforming zeal. She did very good work as a Minister of State in Europe, and I am sure she will do a magnificent job in the Department of Justice.

I commend Senator Neville on the initiative he has taken, and on his consistency in bringing this matter not just to our attention here, but through us to the attention of the public. As Senator Magner said, he must be happy we have reached this stage, that the Minister has in fact adopted in a provision for statute law most of the elements he would have wanted to include in his own Private Members' Bill. I also acknowledge the positive and enlightened response from the Minister in what is clearly an area of consensus in this House and in society. On many occasions there was a consensus but official action lagged behind that consensus in its interpretation in statute law. This is one of the most enlightened examples of statute law modifying what has been firmly established in common law.

The common law is as much part of the law under which we operate as statute law. The law as administered by the courts over the years held suicide to be a felony. All the consequences of that felony were visited on the family who were already sufficiently burdened by the suicide. To have the taint of criminality and illegality attached to them as survivors of the suicide is unbelievable. However, that is the law.

It is significant that we are now doing what statute law should always do, represent the enlightened consensus of society, and to change, where necessary, the common law, which will be the binding law of the courts. There are many occasions where we say the courts interfere too regularly in the role of the Executive and the Government, that they interpret the laws we pass in a way we did not intend. I do not want to get into that issue just now, but this is a perfect example of the Legislature bringing in legislation to eliminate the elements in the common law which are outdated and unacceptable. This is a very important development, not just because of the issue itself, but because of what it represents in terms of an effective and enlightened approach from the Executive through the Minister in bringing our statute law up to date.

The attitude to suicide which was reflected in the courts' approach permeated society at all levels. We should always bear in mind that our laws in many ways reflect the prevailing ethos, some of them based on religion and inherited attitudes. In other societies, Japan, for instance, hara-kiri was regarded as a passport to eternal recognition and honour for one's family, many who committed it regarded it as a mark of honour and commitment — something our society would find hard to understand. These things cannot be divorced from inherited attitudes.

Now that the Statute Book is being brought up to date, the stigma which attached to suicide will, I hope, be eliminated from our social attitudes. For instance, many of those who committed suicide were not buried in consecrated ground in cemeteries; people I knew personally are buried at the entrance to the cemetery instead of inside. Society should never have tolerated such a judgment on a blameless family. This is something we have to eliminate and the legislation will go a long way towards doing that, because there will no longer be a stigma attached to suicide. We had a strange attitude to suicide although I have much to say about the positive values of Irish society and I will come back to that in a moment.

I heard the expression "an ordinary respectable criminal" used in court. There was a begrudging admiration for such ordinary, respectable criminals, especially in rural Ireland, and there were also some ordinary "respectable" crimes. There was a very different attitude towards the families of people who had been convicted from that to families where one member or maybe two had committed suicide. It was assumed that there was some strange weakness in such a household and the taint attached to such unfortunate families was unacceptable.

I am delighted that the Minister's action will show that the State is not entitled to impose such a burden. The taint was never mentioned publicly, but hinted at quietly throughout the community. That was one of the less welcome attitudes in Ireland but fortunately we are moving away from it with the introduction of this legislation.

Perhaps, there were more suicides and social disorder in the past than we were aware of, but there is empirical evidence that the rate of suicide has increased. If that is the case we have to look at the factors behind that increase. The Minister and Senator Magner referred to the rates of suicide in other countries.

Let us look at what are regarded as modern, enlightened, secure and tolerant societies, particularly in Europe; the countries we are asked to emulate in standards, family relationships, general relationships and tolerance towards a certain kind of behaviour. I do not wish to attack their norms, but it is significant that the societies of Northern Europe — those most tolerant, enlightened, free and liberal and in which everything is a matter of individual choice where there is no such thing as social discipline and it is old-fashioned to talk about any positive elements — have the highest rates of suicide: Denmark, France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany and Sweden.

Does that not tell us something about the pressures of modern society and that the real reason for the increase in suicides is that people cannot cope with these pressures? What are the pressures of modern society and what are we doing to try to relieve them? Will we try to enrich society and give people more secure and stable values and give them that great feeling of secure relationships to which the Minister referred to when she said that a poverty of relationships and social opportunities affect the rate of suicides. A poverty of relationships is evident in our society. Yet, sometimes we are not allowed to question why this is the case. Is it because we are not prepared to tell our young people that a positive element in healthy relationships is the discipline attached to being a social being? No man, as John Donne said, is an island. We live in society and the actions we undertake as individuals will affect that society for good or ill. Instead of reacting and acceding to all the demands for various freedoms, we should look at positive values and try to support them. That is the aspect I would like to see promoted, because otherwise we will be reacting ineffectively to the pressures of modern society.

Is this the first generation of modern society and will society suddenly stand still in 1993 having reached modernity? Was there a modern society in the days of the Greeks who were a very enlightened people or during the great enlightenment in Europe? I believe so. In 100 years people may look back at these times and say they were anything but modern. There will always be change but values must be constant.

There must be positive and enriching values based on the discipline required of social beings which would create the atmosphere in which many of the problems of today could be dealt with more effectively. What the Minister is doing is important and enlightening, but it cannot be expected to get at the root cause of the problem.

Another feature of modern society in which the Minister is involved, in cooperation with her European Community colleagues, is the explosion in the use of drugs. Those from certain backgrounds in this and other cities—perhaps it is affecting rural life as well—who have been unfortunate enough to fall prey to that addiction are greatly at risk. There is constant, significant evidence of this. In the course of consultations with our colleagues in Europe in terms of the control of drugs, it is frightening to learn that there is an established trail of drug trafficking through some of the countries of the EC. It is widely known that in northern Spain, Galicia, the social order has nearly broken down. Even the judicial order has broken down. The drug culture has literally dominated and judges have retired. I hope the Minister, in the course of her consultations with her colleagues, will raise this vitally important matter. We want to protect the norms of society. Each country has an obligation to regulate and control the problem. I am not trying to make a judgment on any country. I am talking about regions within countries where it is known to be widespread, giving rise to problems and great human suffering.

The Minister pointed out in her historical analysis that the term felo de se, the Latin term for suicide, became a felony of itself by definition, which had direct and immediate consequences. One of the consequences was that not only was the felon not entitled in any way to benefit from an attempted suicide which had been frustrated, but that their families, next of kin and personal representatives were also prevented from benefiting from the consequences of what was seen as a felony. I would like clarification from the Minister on this issue. Senator Magner referred to this in relation to insurance contracts. Until now, insurance companies could legitimately justify the exclusion clause because suicide was established in law as a felony or misdemeanour. Nobody under a civil contract such as a contract of insurance, their successors in title or personal representative, could benefit from the consequences of a criminal act. Now that the taint of illegality and criminality is being removed, what can be done to ensure that the civil law in relation to civil contracts of insurance will be brought into line and that people will not be excluded from the benefit of life assurance? It would be the last stage in ensuring consistency in this whole area. It would be a logical consequence of an enlightened action which the Minister introduced in this House today which would be welcomed.

Ba mhaith liom ar dtús mo bhuíochas a ghabháil leis na Seanadóirí ar fad a ghlac páirt sa díospóireacht. Mar a dúirt an Seanadóir O'Kennedy ar ball beag, tá chuile dhuine aontaithe ar gach aon taobh den Teach faoin mBille seo. Tá mé buíoch den tacaíocht a fuair mé ón Teach agus gabhaim buíochas speisialta leis an Seanadóir Neville as ucht an méid oibre atá déanta aige faoin cheist seo ó 1991 i leith.

Everybody is concerned about the stigma of suicide on families. A number of Senators mentioned the lack of community and parish support or indeed extended family support when a suicide occurs. While we might not have had the direct experience of Senator Magner, we all know of families in our own areas who have had this experience and the terrible trauma that it brings.

The point raised by Senator Kennedy and Senator Magner was also raised in the Dáil, specifically in relation to insurance companies but I know other issues are involved. I have already raised with my colleague in the Department of Equality and Law Reform, the possibility or necessity of amending civil law to take account of the changes we are making in this Bill. The Minister for Enterprise and Employment, Deputy Quinn, is already looking at the area of insurance companies. If I remember correctly, during the discussion on Committee Stage in the Dáil, it became clear that although suicide was decriminalised in the United Kingdom in 1960, there may still be difficulties in certain instances where insurance companies are using exclusion clauses in this area. It is an issue which I have raised and will rise again as a result of the debate here today.

Senators mentioned the prisons and the prison system. I thank Senator Neville and others who said that there were a number of positive changes in the recent past. Various support measures must be put in place within the prison system to help prisoners. We cannot easily or always identify people who might have a tendency towards suicide. We can never, regardless of all embracing support services which are put in place in the community or in the prison system, eliminate the possibility of someone committing suicide. However, the various changes in the recent past are positive and I thank the House for welcoming them. We also need support for prison officers and prison staff. It is a traumatic experience for any prison officer, male or female, to find a prisoner who has committed suicide, that person needs intense support and counselling in the immediate period thereafter. That is being put in place in the prison system. I will raise Senator Magner's specific point with the prison management and the Prison Officers' Association who meet me on a regular basis. I do not think that either of those would like to see a situation develop where any loose comment made by a prison officer or a member of staff would in any way contribute to causing difficulties for a prisoner.

Members mentioned community care, the psychiatric services and the lack of back-up facilities in relation to the early discharge from psychiatric hospitals of patients who might have a tendency to suicide. That is a relevant point, one which was raised in the other House. I will be raising that point once again with the Minister for Health. It will primarily be a health issue when this Bill is passed, the point Senator Neville and others made. The health services, the Department of Health and the Minister for Health will be looking specifically at the support systems already in place, how they need to be improved and how that should be done.

Section 30 of the Coroners Act, 1962, was raised by Senator Neville. He is correct in saying that one of the implications of this Bill is that it will no longer be in conflict with section 30 of the Coroners Act to return a verdict of suicide. However, there will be no compulsion to return a verdict of suicide and indeed there is judicial authority for the view that there will be a presumption against suicide. Mr. Justice O'Hanlon in The State (McKeown) v. Scully, 1986 ILRM 133, indicated his agreement with the following quotation from an English case:

It seems to me to fail to recognise what is perhaps one of the most important rules that coroners should bear in mind in cases of this class, namely that suicide must never be presumed. If a person dies a violent death, the possibility of suicide may be there for all to see, but must not be presumed merely because it seems on the face of it to be a likely explanation. Suicide must be proved by evidence, and if it is not proved by evidence, it is the duty of the coroner not to find suicide, but to find an open verdict ... There are many many cases where there is real doubt as to the cause of death and where an open verdict is right, and where anything else is unjust to the family of the deceased.

I do not want at this stage, and I am sure that Senator Neville does not want either, to enter into a debate on what verdicts should be returned at inquests. I am aware of the point raised by Senator Neville about the facilities available at inquest for the relatives and family. I will certainly undertake to have a look at the practice and procedures at inquests to see in what way they can be improved upon to make life a little easier for those suffering a great loss.

Senator McGowan raised some concerns about the use of the word "committed" in the context of suicide. I assure him that the word does not carry with it any implication that the act is a crime. The word "commit" was chosen by the parliamentary draughtsman because he considered it was the most appropriate word in the circumstances. Senator Maloney and other members once again talked about the back-up facilities for discharged psychiatric patients and that is something I will raise with the Minister for Health. Senator Maloney also mentioned an interesting proposal in the United States in relation to intervention programmes and how our health boards, the Department of Education and the schools system might introduce such programmes at an early stage. That is something on which I would be delighted to report to my colleagues.

Senators mentioned voluntary organisations, I referred to them in my earlier contribution. I would also like to be associated with the words of support and encouragement for the voluntary organisations. The Government is well aware of the support they need at all times because they do a very important job. Speaking particularly of the prison system, the open line now available to prisoners and the back-up facilities to prison staff by the Samaritans, are very important, worthwhile and necessary that I would like to see continued and expanded upon.

Senator Norris expressed concerns about the operation of the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions. I am quite sure that his comments in the House will be brought to the attention of the DPP and that any difficulties the Senator is having in relation to that office may be addressed. Senator Norris also raised a point to which Senator Magner responded in advance of my own comments, asking why aiding, abetting and counselling someone to commit suicide should be a crime under the Bill. We are all aware that not every suicide occurs for clearly defined reasons. Senators Norris and Henry raised deep philosophical points of view in relation to the medical and ethical problems surrounding suicide. I would not like to go down that road, and I do not think we should discuss those kind of medical and ethical views in the context of this Bill. They are, however, deep views about which both Senators feel strongly and perhaps that is a debate we could have at another time.

There certainly have been cases where an inordinate amount of pressure has been put on people, particularly in rural Ireland, involving a large amount of land or a large amount of money in the bank. Such pressures, when exerted, could well drive someone to commit suicide. It is not so long ago that we read in the national newspapers of a case in the west in a county close to my own, where a father and son returned from the pub one evening and, because of an argument that developed, the son went to one of the sheds outside the house, procured poison used on the farm, left it in a mug on the range and the father drank it. Now in that particular case a verdict of aiding and abetting suicide was not returned by the court for various reasons. Things like that can happen, so it is important that that provision is part of the legislation.

Senator Henry raised a point discussed since the Bill was published concerning the question of medical personnel and the possibility that they may in some way be implicated in complicity in suicide. Before a person could be convicted of aiding a person to commit suicide under section 2 (2) of the Bill it would have to be shown that a person committed or attempted to commit suicide, that the accused knew that the person intended to commit suicide, that with that knowledge he or she did some act which assisted the person to commit suicide, and that he or she did that act with the intention of helping that person to commit suicide. There is no question of offences being committed by medical personnel who prescribe various medications to somebody who is ill and subsequently commits suicide, or of that person being implicated in complicity in suicide. I hope I made that clear earlier.

All the other issues are more or less similar. Senator O'Kennedy raised an important question in so far as Ministers for Justice in the European Community are concerned, the area of drug abuse. It is an area about which we are concerned and various programmes are being introduced, both in the prison system, and by the Department of Health in the education system, to ensure that we educate young people not to participate in this glamorous world of soft drugs as they are called. We all know that when one goes down that road it leads to a different road later on in life. Senator O'Kennedy and others may be interested to know that last week and again this week at a Justice Ministers' Council we discussed the issue of drug trafficking. Yesterday we signed a significant Europol agreement on drug abuse and drug trafficking. As Senator O'Kennedy said, there is genuine concern both here, in other European countries and on the fringes of the European Community where there is drug trafficking that this should not continue and that our police forces should co-operate. In this age of free movement of persons we must be vigilant and our police forces and drug squads must be strengthened to ensure they can cope with these difficulties. Senator O'Kennedy may rest assured that this issue is raised every time that EC Justice and Interior Ministers meet.

We discussed health and education programmes and the social and psychiatric services which need to be provided, as well as the local voluntary organisations. Local community, family and parish support is vital and I hope that, as Senators mentioned, now that suicide is being decriminalised people will be able to talk about it in an open and frank way and remove the stigma that has been there for centuries, not just in Ireland but all over the world. We need to have an open discussion to allow families to cope with this problem.

Senator Ormonde raised the points system in education and the pressures it puts on young people. All parents of teenagers studying for their leaving certificate know the enormous pressures involved. Sometimes the pressure is piled on by parents and teachers, and sometimes the teenagers themselves put on the pressure without any urging from home or teachers. There is peer pressure there, and if they want to do a particular thing they need a certain amount of points. I agree with Senator Ormonde that huge pressures occur at this time and there is an increasing tendency by young people in that age group to commit suicide. We need support for families, preventative measures and intervention programmes. I will be raising those matters with my colleagues around the table. I would like to thank you, a Chathaoirligh, and the other Senators for their support for the Bill, I am glad that everyone welcomed it. In particular I appreciate the tremendous interest Senator Neville has taken in this area since 1991.

Question put and agreed to.
Agreed to take remaining Stages today.