By Lisa Zengarini
The Irish Bishops’ have expressed their opposition to a new bill that provides for people with progressive terminal illness to decide the timing of their own death and seek assistance to end their lives under controlled and monitored circumstances. The so-called "Dying with Dignity Bill 2020" was introduced in the Oireachtas Éireann (Irish Parliament) last year and is presently under scrutiny.
A long and detailed Submission presented this week to the Oireachtas Committee on Justice, the Council for Life and the Consultative Group on Bioethics of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference (ICBC), points out that, although it does not use the term “suicide” the Bill “is essentially about making provision for a person who wishes to end his or her life, to make a formal declaration to that effect and to seek medical assistance in doing so”. The Bill’s proposals therefore “run radically counter to the common good, the promotion of which is a particular responsibility of the State”, the Council for Life and the Consultative Group on Bioethics state, warning that it “would not only encourage the acceptance of assisted suicide, but significantly weaken the protections against the non-consensual killing of particularly vulnerable classes of persons”.
Pointing out that that the Submission is rooted in the Church’s conviction “that we have a moral responsibility to care for our neighbour according to the Gospel image of the Good Samaritan” and it “draws on the insights of Letter Samaritanus bonus, on the care of persons in the critical and terminal phases of life”, the Irish Bishops note that “within existing law and medical practice, good palliative care, by upholding absolute respect for human life and, at the same time, acknowledging human mortality, offers terminally ill people the best possibility of achieving” the “dignified and peaceful end of life”, mentioned in the Bill. In this respect, the Submission further emphasizes that the proposed legislation “fails to require care givers to provide adequate palliative care for the terminally ill person”.
A failure of compassion
Bishops also object to the assumption underlying assisted suicide “that there is such a thing as a life which is no longer worth living”: “This false assumption”, they say, “inevitably erodes the very basis of legal respect and protection, on a basis of equality, for every human life, regardless of age, disability, competence, or illness”. According to the Irish Bishops, assisted suicide “reflects a failure of compassion on the part of society” – that same compassion which is often presented to justify it.
Regarding the question of patient autonomy, by which a person has the right to be treated and cared for in a manner which reflects his or her own personal values, hopes and desires, the Submission reiterates that this autonomy “is not absolute” because “as members of society our decisions can have serious implications for others”.
It also warns that assisted suicide “would place the terminally ill, the disabled, and other vulnerable patients under emotional and social pressure to end their own lives in order to spare others the burden of caring for them”. Moreover, the Irish Bishops point out that the “the logic of assisted suicide propels the widening of the practice towards extremely vulnerable groups and towards non-consensual killing”, as confirmed by international data on Countries like Belgium, The Netherlands and Switzerland where assisted suicide/euthanasia were originally introduced on “limited” grounds.
Another issue raised by the Submission is conscientious objection. According to the Bishops, the provision of the Bill “fails to acknowledge the right to freedom of conscience for healthcare professionals who judge any significant cooperation with suicide to be morally wrong”, thus coercing “the consciences of objecting healthcare providers in order to facilitate something they know to be gravely immoral and utterly incompatible with their vocation to heal”.
In the light of all these considerations and of Pope Francis's words against “the current socio-cultural context which is gradually eroding the awareness of what makes human life precious”, the Irish bishops conclude recommending to the Oireachtas that the Bill “should not be passed”.