Faith Matters

Churches urge Oireachtas to stop 'assisted suicide' bill

Ireland's Churches have told an Oireachtas committee that there are serious problems with a Bill that they say would legalise euthanasia

The Catholic Church has warned that if the Oireachtas were to pass the Dying with Dignity Bill, it would 'encourage the acceptance of assisted suicide' and 'significantly weaken the protections against the non-consensual killing of particularly vulnerable classes of persons'

THE Catholic Church is the latest to urge the Oireachtas not to proceed with the Dying with Dignity Bill, saying it would provide for the "medical endorsement and facilitation of suicide".

In a lengthy submission to the Oireachtas Committee on Justice, which is considering responses to the Bill, the Church's Council for Life and Consultative Group on Bioethics said there was a "moral responsibility to care for our 'neighbour' according to the Gospel image of the Good Samaritan".

"Our view, essentially, is that the Bill's proposals, which provide for the medical facilitation of suicide, run radically counter to the common good, the promotion of which is a particular responsibility of the State," it said.

"If passed, the Bill 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."

The submission sets out the Church's conviction that it is good palliative care which upholds absolute respect for human life and which acknowledges human mortality that offers terminally ill people the best possibility of achieving "a dignified and peaceful end of life".

"While palliative care already provides assistance to those who are dying, this Bill provides for the medical endorsement and facilitation of suicide," it says.

"Legislators need to honestly recognise the difference and call things by their proper name."

Moves towards assisted suicide reflect a "failure of compassion on the part of society".

"It is a failure to respond to the challenge of caring for terminally ill patients as they approach the end of their lives," it says.

The Church is also troubled at proposed provisions for health workers with conscientious objections to assisted suicide.

"The Bill would coerce 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.

"This burdening of conscience is unnecessary, disproportionate and seriously unjust."

The Church's submission points out that "the governments, the healthcare services and the populations of the world" have struggled to suppress the Covid-19 pandemic and to protect those in society who are most vulnerable.

While palliative care already provides assistance to those who are dying, this Bill provides for the medical endorsement and facilitation of suicide. Legislators need to honestly recognise the difference and call things by their proper name 

"We have been deeply moved by the level of generosity and tenderness that has been shown by so many healthcare professionals and the sacrifices that have been made by so many to protect those who are most at risk," it says.

"Alongside that positive manifestation of genuine compassion, we note, however, that some of the written protocols which relate to the difficult and essential task of prioritising critical care resources, are shot through with language which is essentially utilitarian in its assessment of the value of human life.

"Whatever our prognosis and however limited our capacity, our value as persons is rooted in who we are rather than in our life-expectancy or our ability to reach certain standards of physical or mental performance.

"Pope Francis recalls that 'the current socio-cultural context is gradually eroding the awareness of what makes human life precious'.

"'In fact, it is increasingly valued on the basis of its efficiency and utility, to the point of considering as "discarded lives" or "unworthy lives" those who do not meet this criterion.'

"We contend that, the committee would best serve humanity and the common good of society by recommending to the Oireachtas that this Bill should not be passed..."

The Church of Ireland's Church and Society Commission has also responded to the Oireachtas committee's consultation on the Bill.

"Dying with dignity or assisted dying, despite being an euphemistic term, is still suicide, and this Bill not only changes the law to allow assistance to someone wishing to commit suicide, but also introduces the legalising of euthanasia, that is the killing of another human being," it said.

"We would wish to argue against the advancement of this Bill on an ethical basis and also on the basis of significant deficiencies in the wording of the Bill in its failure to adequately protect the patient requesting and also the medical practitioner, who might actually administer the fatal drugs."

The Presbyterian Church has said the Bill is "deeply flawed" and raised "serious and fundamental questions about the value that is placed on human life in Ireland, something that we firmly believe to be a gift from God".

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