Ireland may debate assisted suicide soon

The Irish Times is reporting today that Irish Independent MP, John Halligan, plans to table his assisted suicide bill in the Dáil (parliament) 'within weeks'.The threat of an attempt at legalising assisted suicide has been building for some time. The first significant attempt at law reform came via a Court case brought by MS sufferer, Marie Fleming who was seeking assurances that her husband, Tom Curran, would not be prosecuted if he assisted her in her suicide, claiming that her disability rendered her unable to act herself and that, therefore, she was being discriminated against under the Irish Constitution. It was very similarr to the successful British Court case of fellow MS sufferer, Debbie Purdy in 2009 that forced the UK Public Prosecutor to issue guidelines for the circumstances under which an accompanying relative or friend to Dignitas in Zurich would not face the law.Marie Fleming's case failed on appeal.In April this year, Gail O'Rorke was tried in the Irish criminal court and found not guilty of an offence against the Irish laws prohibiting assisted suicide in relation to another MS sufferer, Bernadette Forde.In June this year, Dr Kevin Fitzpatrick, director of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition International held a conference in Dublin that included the timely launch of HOPE Ireland, in preparation for the pending debate. Fitzpatrick said recently: 

"We must oppose legalising euthanasia/assisted suicide for reasons of the terrible consequences that have come where laws have been passed. Even a minimal scratch at the surface reveals all the dangers inherent in such laws. The evidence is overwhelming and that is where the 'big' conversation needs to be honest."

John Halligan seems to be in agreement, telling the Irish Times that we need a, "dignified, compassionate and thoughtful debate".

"This affects many families and at some point it may affect all of us or a member of our families. You have a right to dignity in life and you have a right to a dignified death."

No complaints so far. On this we agree, but differ, sadly, from that point forward with Halligan offering much the same kind of rhetoric heard across the Irish Sea in the recent Commons Debate at Westminster.

As was expected, Halligan was assisted in the development of his bill by Tom Curran; husband of Marie Fleming and co-ordinator of Exit International Europe; an arm of Philip Nitschke's network. Halligan also claims that the draft bill was 'compiled by two barristers', yet in the description of the criteria - the so-called 'safeguards' - it sounds like the bill is substantially the same as every other type of bill of this kind; most, thankfully, defeated.

This all seems more about an attempt to impress rather than any sense that the bill is going to be some revolutionary text that will solve all of the problems present in every other bill. It simply cannot do that. No matter what the framework, the risks are inherent.

It will be a huge task for Halligan to negotiate the rigours and torturous paths of parliament via his private bill. Also standing against him is the Supreme Court judgement in the Fleming case and the more recent and overwhelming defeats of legislation in Scotland and the UK.

Still, one must never underestimate an opponent.