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Tue, 27 October 2020

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Irish assisted dying bill: speakers overwhelmingly support reform in Dáil debate last night

Dignity in Dying

4 min read Partner content

Cross-party TDs in the Dáil last night overwhelmingly backed a change in the law on assisted dying, with two-thirds speaking in favour of the Dying with Dignity Bill proposed by Gino Kenny TD.

TDs will vote on Wednesday whether to allow the Bill to progress to pre-legislative scrutiny or to establish a new Oireachtas Joint Committee to examine the proposals and report back within a year.

Several TDs raised powerful personal testimony of constituents who have suffered at the hands of the ban on assisted dying, including Vicky Phelan, a cancer screening campaigner now living with terminal cervical cancer, whose words were read out by Alan Kenny TD:

“Imagine that you are dying from an incurable cancer. You are still relatively young, with young children. You do not want to die but you know that, barring a miracle, this going to happen… You know that people suffering from the same cancer and died before you endured a lot of pain in their final weeks. Indeed you have sat with some of these patients in their final weeks and you have watched them and their loved ones suffer unnecessarily while they waited for their last breath...

“Now imagine that there is another way, imagine that you can choose to control the circumstances of your inevitable death, and imagine that by virtue of this Bill you are allowed to die gently, at home, surrounded by your family and friends, when your time is nearing its end.

“I do not have to imagine it. This is what this Dying with Dignity Bill would do for me and my family. I do not want to die; I am not choosing between living and dying. My cancer is incurable, the option of living will no longer be available to me in the not too distant future. I just want the choice to control the circumstances of my death, much as I have made decisions about my life.”

Meanwhile New Zealand is preparing to hold the world’s first national referendum on assisted dying later this month, after its Parliament passed an assisted dying Bill last year. With soaring public support, it is likely to pass, and New Zealand may follow in the footsteps of two Australian states, 10 jurisdictions across the US and all of Canada in introducing assisted dying legislation which enables terminally ill, mentally competent adults the choice to die on their own terms, subject to strict safeguards.

Sarah Wootton, Chief Executive of Dignity in Dying, said:

“While the rest of the world moves on, the UK is lagging shamefully behind. Terminally ill people and their loved ones are bearing the brunt of our inaction and the pandemic is exacerbating their suffering even further.

"We have heard from a son whose terminally ill mother threw herself off a tall building because she was unable to get to Switzerland due to the ever-changing travel restrictions, local lockdowns and inter-country quarantines.

"We have also been contacted by a healthcare professional with advanced cancer who is determined to get to Dignitas but is travelling alone for fear of incriminating their loved ones, and may have to spend their final days isolating in a foreign hotel room following last week’s announcement that Switzerland will now quarantine UK arrivals.

"The ban on assisted dying does not offer protection - it merely drives the practice underground and overseas, with disastrous consequences for British families.

“There is a growing clamour from across society for an urgent review of our cruel, outdated laws.

"Cross-party Parliamentarians, Police and Crime Commissioners, interfaith leaders and senior figures in the medical profession, including most recently Emeritus Medical Director of Public Health England Paul Cosford, all recognise that the ban on assisted dying is simply not working. COVID-19 has highlighted and exacerbated longstanding problems with death and dying in this country, including the woeful lack of meaningful choice and control.

"We must address these problems now in the form of an inquiry - not in spite of the pandemic, but because of it.”

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