Wednesday 22 August 2018

Assisted dying back on Dáil agenda within weeks - minister

John Halligan: working on a new version of bill. Photo: Fergal Phillips
John Halligan: working on a new version of bill. Photo: Fergal Phillips
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

Laws giving terminally ill people the right to access assisted suicide are to come back on the Dáil agenda in the wake of the referendum result.

Euthanasia is set to be the next big moral question facing the country, according to a junior minister.

John Halligan is just "weeks" away from producing fresh legislation that will open up the options for "achieving a dignified and peaceful end of life".

The Independent Alliance minister brought a Dying With Dignity Bill before the Oireachtas in 2015, but it fell with the calling of a general election two months later.

However, the Irish Independent has established that he is working on a renewed version of the Bill, which will be published shortly.

"I'll have everything ready in a matter of weeks," Mr Halligan confirmed.

As a minister he is banned from introducing legislation that hasn't been approved by the Cabinet - but Mr Halligan is lining up a Government backbencher to bring the Bill to the Dáil floor on his behalf.

The Waterford TD is meeting with legal professionals next week to tease out the issues.

It is understood the proposed laws would require a person to be terminally ill, have a "clear and settled intention to end his or her own life" and be over 18.

Safeguards would require a person to make a declaration in the presence of a witness who is not a beneficiary of the ill person's estate.

It would have to be countersigned by the medical practitioner from whom the person has requested assistance to end their life.

A 14-day 'pause period' would be legally enforced between the time a person signs the declaration and doctors actually prescribing the necessary medicines.

If the attending medical practitioner and an independent medical practitioner agree that a person's death is reasonably expected to occur within one month of the day on which a declaration takes effect, the period is reduced to six days.

Asked whether he believes euthanasia will gain public support, Mr Halligan said the abortion referendum shows people are showing "courage and compassion". He noted that opinion polls have suggested people are in favour of the idea.

"My problem will be getting support in the Dáil.

"Look at the way Fianna Fáil behaved with some of them trying to stop the referendum," he said.

The minister said he believes recent referendums have resulted in a lot of young people beginning "to engage with the Irish political system".

"I think it's great for Irish politics, it's now making people who wouldn't before engage take a position. We're in for big changes in Ireland."

Mr Halligan suggested that if necessary he would support the idea of a Citizens' Assembly looking into assisted suicide as happened ahead of the Eighth Amendment referendum.

People Before Profit TD Gino Kenny also told the Irish Independent the issue is "contentious" enough to justify a Citizens' Assembly.

"When all the dust settles on this issue [abortion], I think the vast majority would see the logic in some way in some sort of legislation change for people, particularly with a terminal illness.

"There is compassion. This happens in Ireland. Some people go to Switzerland and some have taken medicine they bought on the internet," he said.

Well-known right-to-die campaigner Tom Curran has previously claimed that around 10 Irish people a year travel overseas to avail of assisted suicide.

Mr Kenny said he knows there would be substantial concern about introducing a right-to-die system here, but said: "Dignity in death is more about living than dying.

"People should not have to suffer. It's not about lining people up to die because they are a burden on society, it's the opposite.

"The majority of people would not seek to die this way but for some people they shouldn't have to go through excoriating pain. It should be an option."

Irish Independent

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