The Law Society has said it does not take a stance either for or against the subject matter of the Dying with Dignity Bill 2020, which allows for physician-assisted suicide.
In a submission to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, however, the Law Society makes two key recommendations aimed at addressing legal issues it believes may arise if the bill were to be passed in its present form.
The Law Society said that the present absolute ban on assisted suicide contained in section 2(2) of the Criminal Law (Suicide) Act 1993 provides the necessary certainty in law.
Level of certainty
“Accordingly, any change in the law must seek to achieve a similar level of certainty regarding the scope and application of the legislation, while also recognising that certainty is an inevitable feature of an absolute prohibition on an action, whereas legislating to allow for an action allows for a greater range of choices to be made, and some level of uncertainty is harder to exclude,” the submission said.
‘Qualifying person’ definition
Under section 6 of the proposed legislation, a medical practitioner may provide assistance to a person to end his or her own life, only if that person comes within a defined category of “qualifying person”.
A “qualifying person” is defined in section 7, which provides, among other things, that the person is “terminally ill”. This is defined in the bill as being an illness that is diagnosed as incurable and progressive, which cannot be reversed and the person is likely to die because of the illness or complications arising from same.
The Law Society recommends, however, that this definition be reconsidered, saying it may be “arbitrary”, and could exclude other people who may have an objectively justified reason to wish to have the choice of physician-assisted suicide.
It believes the objective for providing access to physician-assisted suicide should be more apparent, giving consideration to whether a qualifying person would have to be determined to be facing a specific limited life expectancy or experiencing a certain threshold of suffering.
The Law Society also recommends that the committee should review the safeguards contained in the bill to ensure that they are adequate to protect the right to life.
“In particular, an assessment of capacity should be carried out under both sections 9 and 11 of the bill to ensure that the qualifying person retains the capacity to decide to end their life at the very point where the assistance to do so is rendered,” the submission says.
The Law Society also recommends that the oversight-and-review provisions of the bill be strengthened, particularly in respect of the powers and functions of the proposed Assisted Dying Act Review Committee.
The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC) recently found that the bill did not have adequate safeguards in place to protect the right to life, especially where particular groups may be placed at a heightened risk.