From November 7, assisted dying will be legal in New Zealand following a referendum last year. The new law will apply to people with less than six months to live.
Closer to home, Spanish legislators voted in March to allow doctor-assisted suicide and euthanasia for long-term patients with terminal illnesses and for people with unbearable permanent conditions.
The law came into force in June, making Spain the sixth country to legalise euthanasia. The others are Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Canada and Colombia.
The chances of Ireland being added to that list are unclear as the campaign for the legalisation of assisted dying suffered a significant setback during the summer.
The Oireachtas Justice Committee decided in July that the Dying with Dignity Bill 2020 was unfit for purpose and could not proceed.
It had been around in one form or other since 2015, when it was introduced by the independent TD John Halligan. Its latest sponsor was People Before Profit/Solidarity deputy Gino Kenny. Kenny’s bill sought to make it legal for a medical practitioner to help a terminally ill person to end their life in a dignified and peaceful way.
The bill provoked a huge response, with more than 1,400 submissions to the justice committee. Its chairman, Fianna Fáil TD James Lawless, said the proposed law had “serious technical issues in several sections and that it may have unintended policy consequences”.
A particular concern was that it lacked sufficient safeguards to protect against undue pressure being put on vulnerable people to avail of assisted dying.
Ultimately, the committee recommended a special Oireachtas committee be set up to examine the topic and report within a specific timeframe. A similar arrangement was used to consider abortion legislation.
Since the recommendation in July, there has been no word on whether such a committee will be set up. Kenny is planning to table a new bill next year called the End of Life Choice Bill 2022, which he said would address criticisms made of the earlier bill.
“If the Oireachtas doesn’t facilitate a special Oireachtas committee, there will be a new piece of legislation there in any event,” he tells Review. The justice committee “abdicated its responsibility”, he says.
Kenny says the issue of assisted dying is close to his heart for personal reasons.
“I have never spoken about that before and I would rather not. It is a very personal circumstance,” he says.
“Some of the opponents of this say [the bill] is trivialising and demeaning the issue of healthcare. That is not case here. It is about giving people a choice in very, very difficult circumstances. I think people, if they are in situations like that, should have a choice.
“I am confident that it will change. It will just need a bit of time. As long as I am in the Dáil, I will keep pushing for a change in the law around the issue.”