Personal Story of Assisted Death

October 3, 2023

Garret’s story Garret Ahern’s wife, Vicky Janssens died on April 21st 2023 by assisted death in Belgium. We met with Garret (51) who kindly and bravely shared his story with […]

HAI Position on Assisted Dying

The HAI supports voluntary assisted dying in circumstances where people are enduring immense pain and are suffering from a terminal, incurable or progressive condition. We support an act of bringing someone’s life to an end or assisting that person to die in accordance with the prior stated wishes of the individual. The purpose of voluntary assisted dying is to shorten patients’ suffering by granting them personal autonomy to allow them to die painlessly.

Humanists believe and respect people’s right to life, however, we also recognise that there are practical circumstances in which humane concern for the quality of a person’s life may override a desire to preserve that life at all costs, be it for religious, ethical or other reasons. If an individual judges that his/her own continued life has no value, we believe that within certain conditions, his or her wishes for ending that life should be acted upon.

Humanists also believe that individual autonomy (the ability to make one’s own decisions about what to do) is a core value of modern liberal democracy that Ireland aims to be. We thus believe that a person has a right to decide if they wish to end their own life. The justification for this right is based on the realisation that a person’s life belongs to no other than to the individual himself or herself.

Joint Committee on Assisted Dying

The Joint Committee on Assisted Dying was formed to consider and make recommendations for legislative and policy change relating to a statutory right to assist a person to end his or her life (assisted dying) and a statutory right to receive such assistance. Its first public meeting took place on 13th June 2023 and its report was published on 20th March 2024. The HAI welcomes the Committee's recommendations to introduce legislation for assisted dying in Ireland. The challenge now is for the legislation to pass through both houses of the Oireachtas during the lifetime of the current government. The HAI will continue to advocate for this.

HAI Campaign Actions to Date

  • The HAI was invited to attend the Joint Committee on Assisted Dying, as part of representation from religious, faith based and other philosophical groups. This meeting took place on Tuesday 5th December 2023 at 19:00, and our chair Neil Ward presented the HAI's case in support of Assisted Dying. Neil outlined the humanist position, which is based on reason and compassion, and on the value we place on personal autonomy. You can view a video of the session here or read the transcript of the meeting here.
  • We sent a submission to the Oireachtas Joint Special Committee on Assisted Dying, setting out the HAI’s position on assisted dying and our support for the proposed changes.
  • We met with Gino Kenny who sponsored the Dying with Dignity Private Members Bill in October 2020, and who is currently a member of the Joint Committee. Gino was also the speaker at our July 2023 event, which was attended by both members and the general public. Gino discussed the issue of assisted dying and the work of the Committee, and he answered questions from the public.
  • We are promoting the campaign and publishing updates from the Joint Committee public sessions on our social media.
  • We are encouraging members of the public to write to their TDs requesting support for legislative change to permit assisted dying in certain circumstances.

Chair of the HAI pictured attending the Joint Committee on Assisted Dying
HAI Chair, Neil Ward, pictured presenting his evidence to the Joint Committee on Assisted Dying

How You Can Help

If you are supportive of legislation being introduced to permit assisted dying under specific circumstances and with specific controls in place, please consider taking the following actions:

6 Reasons why we need assisted dying legislation

1. Dignity: Assisted dying would give people control at end of life

It's about making sure that every terminally ill or incurably suffering person has control over their own body. The right to die is intrinsically tied to the right to bodily autonomy, one of the basic rights that define what it means to be human. Without a compassionate law, the decision does not lie in the hands of who it affects most.

2. Safety: Tried and tested assisted dying safeguard regimes around the world

Over the years, countless societies have debated and formulated well-written laws to protect the vulnerable from potential abuse or misuse.
The first country to legislate Assisted Dying was the US state of Oregon in 1997, and Switzerland has had a de-facto law since 1937. Currently, medical assistance in dying is legally available and controlled in parts of Australia, Canada, Colombia, Luxembourg, Switzerland, and several US States. Several more states in the US and Australia are expected to introduce assisted dying, and there is a strong campaign to support assisted dying in the UK now.

There is a fear of a “slippery slope” often expressed, however, the proposed changes in Ireland regarding access to assisted dying would be created only through legislation, and the details would be thoroughly outlined. Accessing assisted dying on grounds of disability, dementia or mental illness will not “slip” into legislation as the legislation will be specific, and in case of any eligibility expansion, it will require further debate and legislation.  Disabled people who fit the criteria will be able to avail of assisted dying, and in theory some dementia patients could be eligible as long as they were still mentally capable during assessment and administration. However, being disabled is not an eligibility criteria anywhere in the world. Disabled people cannot avail of assisted dying based on being disabled.

3. Empathy: Assisted dying would alleviate unnecessary suffering, indignity, and fear

The stories are heart-wrenching, such as Marie Fleming’s story. Marie was a university lecturer who was in the final stages of multiple sclerosis. She had gone to the Court to be allowed to avail of lawful assisted dying in order to have a peaceful death at a time of her choosing without putting loved ones who would help her at risk of prosecution. Marie lost a landmark Supreme Court challenge for the right to assisted dying.

A humane assisted dying law isn't just about granting individuals a choice; it's about listening to people who do not want to endure prolonged agony, fear, and distress.

4. Compassion: Assisted dying would allow people to die on their own terms

The comfort of being surrounded by loved ones and cherished possessions, is a vision many of us hold for our final moments. A humane assisted dying law, with clear safeguards, would make this vision a reality for those who desire it. There is such a thing as a good death. We know that people currently end their lives much sooner than they otherwise would, if they knew that they would have the legal option to access assisted dying. This need not be the case.

5. Clarity: Assisted dying with safeguards would give legal clarity to families

With our current laws and ambiguous prosecution guidelines, friends, family, and loved ones of a terminally ill or incurably suffering person sometimes face suspicion, investigation, and arrest should their loved one travel to Switzerland or another country of their own free will to have an assisted death, or if they attempt suicide in their own home out of desperation. A compassionate assisted dying law would, through the very safeguards we campaign for, give greater legal clarity to families whose relatives want assisted dying, and take away the threat that a family tragedy will be compounded further. Those precious last months and years together could be spent focused on quality time and making memories, with fewer sleepless nights and worries at an already painful time.

6. Democracy: It’s what the majority of people want

Various surveys and sources indicate that the Irish public is in favour of the introduction of Assisted Dying in Ireland. An Amárach Poll for the Claire Byrne RTE show on 14th Dec 2021 revealed that 74% of people are  in favour of Assisted Dying, and the Behaviour and Attitudes poll for the Sunday Times conducted in October 2021 showed 71% in favour of legalising assisted dying.

It is not just Ireland where the majority of population are in favour of legalising assisted dying. In the UK, 82% of people support assisted dying, regardless of their age, gender and political persuasion.

Terminally ill and incurably suffering people deserve the right to die, with dignity, in a time and manner of their own choosing – and most people agree.

If you are struggling to cope, please, call Samaritans for free on 116123, Pieta House free helpline 1800 247 247. Support is available 24 hours a day, every day, providing a safe place for anyone struggling to cope, whoever they are, however they feel, and whatever life has done to them.

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