GAVAN REILLY: Sensitive heads needed for assisted suicide debate

There are two major types of legislation that come through Leinster House. There’s the contentious ones – the ones with some good bits, some bad bits, and where the only TDs who actually vote in favour of it are those from the Government parties.

You’d probably be forgiven for thinking those are actually the lion’s share of bills that go through the Dáil and Seanad on any given day – they are, after all, the ones that probably get more attention that most other Oireachtas business. But, in truth, contentious bills like that occupy the most attention but not the most time.

The vast majority of legislation that goes through tends not to attract too much attention at all because it’s entirely sensible. Many of the laws pushed through in the last few months, underpinning the State’s financial response to Covid-19 like credit guarantee schemes or tweaks to company law, are totally routine and prompt no real annoyance.

There is a rare third category of bill though – one which is remarkable because of how it creates a different kind of interest; generating passions of a different sort while simultaneously (usually) completely bypassing party politics. These are the bills which might be generally described as matters of conscience: the very matters of life and death. Society’s debates on abortion means there’s been quite a few of them in the last few years.

Another is coming soon. Former junior minister John Halligan’s old Dying With Dignity Bill – legislation permitting a system of assisted suicide in Ireland, which was never adopted by Halligan’s own government – has been revived by Gino Kenny of People Before Profit and is set for debate again in the Dáil in the coming weeks.

The Bill has the backing of the likes of Vicky Phelan (who, as a terminally ill woman, wants to be able to say goodbye on her own terms) and Tom Curran, the partner of the late motor neurone sufferer and right-to-die campaigner Marie Fleming. Looking them in the eye it might be difficult to say someone destined for premature death should still be forced to through the uncontrollable distress.

But there are others – Peadar Tóibín among them – who believe when pain relief is more sophisticated than ever, the role of governments should be on making life worth living, and who cannot contemplate the idea of ever permitting one person to kill another, even with consent.

It is a decades-old debate with no right or wrong answer. Let that be remembered by those who consider the legislation in good faith when it comes up soon.

Gavan Reilly is the Political Correspondent for Virgin Media News and the Political Columnist for the Meath Chronicle - read his full column only in the paper out every Tuesday.
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