Friday 20 July 2018

Irish solutions to Irish problems are just not working

The case boils down to conflict between two competing rights that are protected by the Irish Constitution.
The case boils down to conflict between two competing rights that are protected by the Irish Constitution.

Conor O’Mahony

It seems highly likely that the Irish courts are about to be asked, yet again, to resolve a highly emotive and complex constitutional issue involving the right to life of the unborn. On this occasion, it has nothing to do with abortion, but the case is not unique for that.

The Eighth Amendment obliges the State to defend and vindicate the right to life of the unborn as far as practicable. It does not make any mention of abortion, and has previously generated Supreme Court decisions around the status of frozen embryos and the deportation of pregnant women. Its sweeping terms now come into focus in the context of a clinically dead pregnant woman.

The issue is whether the woman should be kept alive long enough to deliver the baby. Some members of her family object to this, but next of kin have no formal status in Irish law to make decisions for adults. The case boils down to conflict between two competing rights that are protected by the Irish Constitution. On one side of the argument lies the right to die a natural death, recognised in 1996 in the case of Re a Ward of Court. This case concerned a woman left in a near-persistent vegetative state following surgery. Because she showed some minimal response, the hospital was unwilling to discontinue artificial nutrition and so she remained in this condition for 20 years. The Supreme Court held that she had the right to have nature take its course and to die a natural death. Unless an individual so wishes, they are constitutionally entitled not to have life artificially maintained by the provision of nourishment by abnormal artificial means, which have no curative effect and which are intended merely to prolong life.

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