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Human rights group calls for 'substantive' changes to Dying with Dignity Bill to protect right to life

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission shared its views with the Oireachtas Justice Committee.

THE PROPOSED DYING with Dignity Bill “falls short” in ensuring the protection of the right to life, the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IRHEC) has warned.

In a written submission to the Oireachtas Justice Committee, which is considering the legislation, the group argues that the bill will need to be “substantively revised” from its current draft if it is to properly account for the wishes of all people at the end of their life.

The commission has also urged TDs to ensure that “robust and adequate” safeguards are in place to ensure that particular groups, including disabled people, people with life-limiting illnesses and older people, are not at risk.

The Dying with Dignity Bill, which would permit terminally ill people to avail of medical assistance to die in certain circumstances, was voted to committee stage in the Dáil last year.

The Oireachtas Justice Committee is currently considering submissions on the proposed legislation from individuals and groups.

In its submission, the IHREC tells TDs that any law which allows for assisted dying must be guided by a “human rights model” of disability and follow extensive consultation with at-risk groups.

The commission also calls for the legislation to expressly state that no person should qualify for medical assistance to die solely on the grounds of their disability or age.

It says the bill should be amended to include a maximum threshold in relation to how soon a person’s likelihood of dying is, for example 6 months, and that this should be qualified through an objective test such as “reasonable medical judgment”.

The IHREC further suggests that certain categories of people should be prevented from being a ‘witness’ to a person’s stated desire to die, such as relatives and those who are responsible for providing care to the person concerned.

And it says the proposed law should be changed to provide for the establishment of an independent oversight mechanism which could review and affirm a person’s stated declaration of their desire to end their own life.

Chief Commissioner of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission Sinéad Gibney said that any debate about assisted dying must have regard for the complexity of issues being considered.

“Legislating for physician-assisted dying engages several rights, including; the right to life, respect for human dignity, personal autonomy and the protection of certain at risk groups, in particular disabled people, people with life-limiting illnesses and older people,” she said.

“These are fundamental human rights and equality issues and as such, the development of this proposed Bill must be scrutinised in light of relevant human rights and equality standards on these and related matters.”

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