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Catholic Bishops say assisted suicide would "radically undermine the ethos of healthcare”


The Catholic Bishops have renewed the Catholic Church’s firm opposition to any efforts to legalise assisted suicide in the State, through a new statement on end of life care released on Monday.

In March, following months of public and private hearings, an Oireachtas Committee recommended the introduction of assisted dying legislation, despite opposition voiced by both national and international experts. 

It is understood that the proposed legislation would apply to people diagnosed with an illness or condition that is incurable and irreversible, that will cause death within six months.

The Bishops’ statement, ‘Freedom to Live Fully, Until Death Comes,’ invited people to “consider once again some of the essential elements of the Church’s teaching on care at the end of life,” urging that palliative and pastoral care should “focus on the needs of the whole person.”

In the statement, Bishops said by legalising assisted suicide, the State would “contribute to undermining the confidence of people who are terminally ill, who want to be cared for and want to live life as fully as possible until death naturally comes.”

“Every human person possesses an infinite dignity, inalienably grounded in his or her very being, which prevails in and beyond every circumstance, state, or situation the person may ever encounter,” the letter said.

“A decision to end life prematurely, however, cuts off any prospect of growth or healing and represents a failure of hope. It is surely far better when a person’s freedom to live is affirmed and supported by a compassionate community of care.

“Even leaving aside the vision of faith, individual autonomy is not absolute, and consideration must be given to the impact of legislation on the common good, as well as on the individual. By legislating for assisted suicide or euthanasia, the State would contribute to undermining the confidence of people who are terminally ill, who want to be cared for and want to live life as fully as possible until death naturally comes.”

The statement continues; “People who are dying are entitled to be accompanied in a holistic way. We believe that palliative care services need to be more widely available, in hospitals and hospices and in the community. 

“Pope Francis says: “We must accompany people towards death, but not provoke death or facilitate any form of suicide”.

 “Care for life is therefore the first responsibility that guides the physician in the encounter with the sick” and the duty of care applies “not only when the restoration to health is a realistic outcome, but even when a cure is unlikely or impossible.” 

“It is often very difficult to accompany those who are suffering near the end of life. All the more reason, then, for Society to make sufficient resources available for the integral care of the dying, so that no one is made to feel that either suffering, or caring, is unbearable.

“We reject legislation that would facilitate assisted suicide or euthanasia,” the statement said. Referencing the Dail’s Final Report of the Joint Committee on Assisted Dying, the Catholic Bishops noted:

“The first recommendation of that report is “that the government introduces legislation allowing for assisted dying, in certain restricted circumstances as set out in the recommendations of the report”. We totally reject that recommendation because, whatever the circumstances, the deliberate taking of human life, especially by those whose vocation is to care for it, undermines a fundamental principle of civilised society, namely that no person can lawfully take the life of another.”

The statement went on to say that people with intellectual disabilities would be “particularly vulnerable.”

“We are aware, of course, that the “Final Report” proposes various “restrictions” regarding who might have access to assisted suicide and under what circumstances. We have little confidence that those proposed restrictions would offer any real protection.

“Taking into account what has happened in many other jurisdictions, and indeed, what is already happening in Ireland with regard to the law on abortion, we believe that it would be only a matter of time before proposals would be on the table again to extend the availability of assisted suicide to those in our society who are most vulnerable, including people with intellectual disabilities.”


The Bishops also said they rejected the recommendation, included in the final report, that a doctor or nurse practitioner must be present and must account to the responsible authority if assisted suicide becomes legal. 

“Assisted suicide requires the active participation of healthcare professionals in taking the lives of the sick,” the statement reads.

“Similarly, the Final Report proposes that, when a healthcare professional refuses to participate in ending the life of a patient, he or she would then be required to refer that same patient on to a “participating healthcare professional”. Requirements such as these would radically undermine the ethos of healthcare.”

 “Doctors and nurses are obliged, like everyone else, to seek the truth and to be faithful to it in the way they care for their patients,” the statement added.

“Whenever we place healthcare professionals under pressure to participate, either directly or by referral, in an act that they themselves believe to be fundamentally immoral, we treat them as mindless functionaries. This does untold damage to the integrity of healthcare in Ireland and removes the human person as its primary focus.

“In our culture, we rightly hold doctors and nurses in high esteem because they are presumed always to be at the service of life, for as long as their patient lives. We call on Catholics to stand firmly in support of nurses and doctors who stand for life. One day it may be your life.”

Earlier this month, the Bishop of Elphin strongly rejected any assisted suicide legislation, saying there had been much discussion about a change of legislation in the media, but that Catholics along with others “share a different vision about what it is to be fully human” and the approach to suffering.

Bishop Kevin Doran said he feared that those who feel they are overburdened by suffering would be facilitated in prematurely ending their lives if there was a change to the law.

“As Catholics, along with many people of other faiths and none, we share a different vision about what it is to be fully human, especially when we are suffering and approaching death in the hope of eternal life,” he said.

“People who are coming towards the end of their lives are vulnerable, and recent research shows that many feel themselves a burden on their loved ones and wider society. Jesus shows us that life always has dignity and that there is no such a thing as a useless life.”

“We are called to defend this gift of life to its natural end and to protect vulnerable citizens from a culture that could pressure them into assisted suicide. We support people with the companionship of a listening ear, appropriate treatment, and the best of care, so that their last days can be times of grace, intimacy and love,” he said.

Maria Maynes



This article was first published on Gript and is printed here with permission


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