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“Live Till Death”: The Irish Catholic Church Opposes Legalisation of Assisted Suicide

Dublin: The Irish Bishops’ Conference has voiced strong opposition to a parliamentary committee’s proposal to legalise assisted suicide for terminally ill patients, advocating instead for compulsory palliative care.

On March 20, a parliamentary committee recommended that ‘assisted death’ be permitted for patients expected to die within six months. This proposal was firmly rejected by the Catholic bishops.

While suicide is legal in Ireland, assisting someone in ending their life remains illegal. The Irish Bishops’ Conference urges the government to allow individuals the right to live fully until their natural death, emphasising the importance of palliative and pastoral care.

The bishops highlighted the profound impact a serious illness can have on patients, their families, and friends. They argued that patients should be supported to live through difficult circumstances, embraced by the love and care of their caregivers, and encouraged to believe in God’s unconditional love. The bishops stressed the importance of understanding the Church’s teachings on end-of-life care.

Autonomy and the Value of Life

The argument for assisted suicide often centres on respecting a person’s autonomy over their own life. However, the bishops contend that autonomy ends once life is taken. They called on Catholics, especially healthcare professionals, to uphold the sanctity of human life. The bishops reminded believers of the universal experience of facing death, urging steadfast faith and goodness.

Extraordinary Means and Palliative Care

The Church does not mandate the use of extraordinary means to prolong life, recognising that there is no moral obligation for a patient to undergo burdensome treatment. However, the bishops warned that ending life prematurely eliminates any possibility of recovery and undermines the hope of those who wish to live until their natural death. They asserted that compassionate societies should protect the individual’s right to life, considering it a noble duty. Legalising assisted suicide, they argued, would erode the confidence of terminally ill patients and those seeking care.

Expansion of Palliative Care Services

The bishops called for the expansion of palliative care services in hospitals, hospices, and communities. They emphasised that no one has the legal right to end another person’s life, expressing scepticism about any proposed legal safeguards.

Healthcare Professionals’ Concerns

Several associations of doctors, nurses, and other healthcare workers in Ireland have also expressed opposition to the government’s proposal. Experts in the field have highlighted shortcomings in other countries with legalised assisted suicide and euthanasia. In Canada, for example, fewer than half of assisted suicide and euthanasia patients receive services from specialist palliative care teams, with only 15% receiving government-funded palliative care at home. In Belgium, two-thirds of people who die do not receive specialist palliative care, and 59% of dying patients in Australia lack end-of-life care.

While some argue that legalising assisted dying is compatible with palliative care, opponents warn that it can hinder the development of palliative care services. They cite instances in Canada where funding was withdrawn from hospices that refused to participate in assisted care.

The Irish Bishops’ Conference remains resolute in its stance, advocating for robust palliative care and opposing any move to legalise assisted suicide.

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