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Doubt cast over capacity to enact assisted dying laws

Minister for Finance Michael McGrath has cast considerable doubt on whether it is possible to enact legislation on assisted dying, should Cabinet decide to adopt a recommendation by an Oireachtas special committee.

The committee’s report is due to be published next week, but it is known it recommends that both assisted suicide and euthanasia be introduced in Ireland.

Speaking in Brussels this afternoon, Minister McGrath said: “It strikes me as ambitious that that could be done in the remainder of this Government’s life.”

He said that the Government would carefully consider the report of the Oireachtas committee, but noted it would be a very time-consuming process in the event of Cabinet agreeing to legislate.

The minister added: “The heads of a bill would have to be prepared, you would need pre-legislative scrutiny – though you could argue much of that work has now been done in the consideration that the committee gave to the issue – and then the full legislation, and it has to go through both houses.”

He observed, however, that the committee had “undertaken a substantive body of work and all of the committee members and those who contributed to their deliberations deserve praise for addressing and examining what is a very, very complex and difficult and deeply personal issue”.

RTÉ News reported last week that, under the committee’s recommendation, legislation would primarily apply to a person diagnosed with an illness or medical condition that is incurable, irreversible, progressive and advanced and will cause death within six months.

This time limit is likely set at 12 months for neurodegenerative conditions.

The committee says the proposed legislation should also state that the illness must be causing suffering, which cannot be relieved in a way that the ill person finds tolerable.

In these cases, the person would be eligible to be assessed for assisted dying and it would all be overseen by a medical professional.

Assisted suicide would involve the person who wants to die taking the action to end their life.

However, euthanasia is also recommended, in which a doctor would take the action to end life when the person wanting to die is incapable physically to administer a medical substance.

The committee report will also include a conscientious clause, allowing any doctor, nurse or medical worker not to be involved.

The committee believes that no constitutional change is required.

If the Cabinet backs the plan, any legislation would need to clear both Houses of the Oireachtas before the next general election – otherwise it all falls.

The Joint Committee on Assisted Dying was established last year to consider and make recommendations for legislative and policy change related to a statutory right to assist a person to end his, her or their life.

The special Oireachtas committee on Assisted Dying voted by a margin of nine to three in favour of legislating on the issue.

There was one abstention, while another member was not present for the final vote.

Additional reporting: Tony Connelly

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