The legal position in this jurisdiction in relation to assisted suicide is that it is an offence, under Section 2(2) of the Criminal Law (Suicide) Act 1993, to assist another person in taking his or her life. The offence was created in order to safeguard the lives of individuals who are nearing the end of their lives and who might be vulnerable or at risk of abuse. Prosecution of the offence, which can result in a term of imprisonment of up to 14 years, is at the sole discretion of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP).
The constitutionality of the legislation was upheld by the Supreme Court in its judgment in Fleming v Ireland and Others delivered on 29 April 2013. While acknowledging the very distressing situation of Ms. Fleming, the Court held that there is no constitutional right to commit suicide or to arrange for the ending of one’s life at a time of one’s choosing. The Court also found that the prohibition on assisted suicide was not discriminatory and was not contrary to the European Convention on Human Rights. As a consequence of the judgment, the offence of assisting another to take his or her life remains in place.
The Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice and Equality, in June 2018, published a Report on the Right to Die with Dignity. The Committee reported that, in the course of its hearings, it did not achieve a clear consensus as to whether legislative change was justified and that it was not, therefore, in a position to recommend legislative change at that time. The Irish Association for Palliative Care appeared before the Committee and also expressed the view that there should be no change in the law to allow assisted suicide or euthanasia and set out its reasoning in that regard.
Assisted suicide is a very complex issue which gives rise not only to criminal justice issues but also to constitutional, medical, ethical and moral issues. The competing interests of the individual would have to be balanced with the wider public interest in safeguarding persons who are nearing the end of their lives and who might be vulnerable and at risk of abuse. As such, the Minister has no plans to review the existing legislation.
The Committee made a number of recommendations, including that the Houses of the Oireachtas consider referring the issue to the Citizens’ Assembly for deliberation.