(2/14) Why Hasn’t Ireland got Voluntary Assisted Dying?

2. Why Hasn’t Ireland got Voluntary Assisted Dying?

Many countries in the world have passed laws to allow their citizens the right to end their lives in circumstances of their choosing with certain restrictions and safeguards. The twin principles are compassion and choice: no-one should have to die painfully and with loss of dignity and control over their circumstances.

Ireland is a wealthy, westernised country, so why hasn’t Ireland got such legislation in place? This is all the more curious when we consider that opinion polls show that vast majority of people wish to die in their own homes — but very few do. Also over 60% are in favour of legislation to provide Voluntary Assisted Dying (VAD). It appears that our politicians are lagging behind public opinion on this issue as they have been on other social issues. End of Life Ireland argues that the time is now right to introduce legislation to allow Voluntary Assisted Dying.

There have been two attempts to introduce a Private Member’s Bill to permit VAD. In 2015 the attempt failed because there was a change of government and all bills in progress automatically failed. In 2020, an Oireachtas Justice Committee considered the bill deficient in many respects. The Joint Committee on Assisted Dying. is now meeting to consider the issue and produce a report by June 2024.

International experience

There is a great deal of international experience of the implementation of VAD legislation. Some of that experience goes back over 20 years and has been reported in detail (see the End of Life Ireland website for Submissions to Committees). In the last couple of years the Australian states have all introduced VAD laws and it is most instructive to follow the debates and to see how the laws have evolved. Very early laws (e.g. Oregon, USA) were extremely restrictive — ‘terminal illness with a prognosis of not more than six month to live’ etc — but later laws are more flexible. By flexible, I mean that they allow a slightly wider range of conditions to be included, such as Motor Neurone Disease and Multiple Sclerosis. In both there is a usually a slow deterioration of control of movement resulting in loss of speech and ending in complete helplessness.

All this international experience is available to our legislators to use in drawing up a law which suits our particular circumstances. (We are not so very different from other places which have VAD laws.) It is worth saying that in countries where VAD laws are in force they are overwhelmingly popular (around 90% support in polls) and in no jurisdiction has a VAD law been repealed. In short, VAD can be managed safely.

Alan Tuffery is a member of End of Life Ireland. We are a voluntary group advocating for legislation to allow Voluntary Assisted Dying in Ireland. This is the second in a series of fourteen short articles on issues about voluntary assisted dying (VAD). The first article can be found here, the next article in the series can be found here.