The Right to Die?

Hey guys! So I started working in a solicitors office this week, and it got me thinking about the fine line between something being legally wrong and/or morally incorrect. While I was studying for my law degree it became increasingly apparent that this battle between morality and legality, especially with regard to highly emotive issues, was intrinsically linked to the law itself.

Now that my brain is back in law law land, I have decided to write this blog post about a particular area of Irish law that always splits opinions. I hope you find this interesting and informative, let me know what you think and tell me in the comments whether you agree or disagree with what I’ve said!

The law surrounding

Euthanasia.

That being, the administration of lethal medicine with the intention of ending ones own life. Euthanasia, or as i prefer to call it, the right to die” is currently illegal in Ireland. In stark comparison, its counterpart “the right to life” is afforded protection under all international, regional, and domestic human rights documents.

As Irish citizens our Constitution upholds the rights we know and value so highly, like the right to vote, to own property and to integrity and autonomy. What you may not know, is that there is immense ambiguity and uncertainty in both our Courts and Government surrounding the legality and moral legitimacy of euthanasia.

The Irish courts have recently been faced with challenging cases surrounding the “right to life” and corresponding “right to die” in regard to abortion, another highly emotive issue. In particular, they are concerned with the conflict between the mothers right to die with dignity, and the unborn child’s right to life. Following the tragic death of Savita Halappanavar, it was anticipated that Ireland would take progressive steps towards rectifying the extremely worrying position of women being viewed by the State as incubators for an unborn child, rather than human beings in their own right.

Unfortunately this was not the case and very similar disturbing circumstances arose in the PP v HSE case. This involved a mother who was clinically dead and being kept alive artificially because she was pregnant. Her body suffered multiple infections and medical professionals stated that there was no reasonable prospect of the foetus surviving. Her family as well as the father of the unborn child also agreed that her life support should be switched off. Under Article 40.3.3 of the Irish Constitution, the right to life of a foetus must be protected as far as practicable. This put the doctors in an extremely precarious position. If they turned off the life support they could potentially be held liable by the State for ending the foetuses life. After a harrowing ordeal lasting four weeks, the court ruled that this somatic treatment could be terminated, allowing the mother to die naturally and inevitably ending the life of the foetus.

The most perturbing aspect of this case is the fact that the judiciary focused so heavily on the potential survival of the foetus and raises a number of crucial questions. If the foetus had a reasonable chance of surviving, would the mother have been preserved in this vegetative state to protect its right to life? This would be a clear disregard for her right to bodily integrity as well as the right to die with dignity. If the pregnancy had been more advanced would this also be the case? If the couple had been married, and the father decided he wanted to exercise his parental rights and try to preserve the life of the foetus, would it be permissible to keep using this woman as a human vessel?

So as Irish people who are legally entitled to be autonomous, self-determining individuals why have we not been given the freedom to decide whether euthanasia is an option for us or not? Is it the case that the State is in a superior, knowledgeable position making them better suited to determining what happens to a person’s life, than the person themselves?

An increasing number of countries within Europe and beyond have chosen to legalise euthanasia for a number of reasons. So the final question to be asked is this;

Should euthanasia be protected under the right to life in Irish Statute?

For me, the answer is a simple yes. It is legally provided for that no individual, no State body and no organ of any Government can tell an individual that they do not have the right to life, so why should they be able to tell someone they do not have the right to end this life if they wish to do so? By implementing adequate safeguards regarding euthanasia laws, it would prevent vulnerable people from abusing the practice. In Belgium the legislation asserts that an individual must be capable and have presented a “voluntary, considered and repeated” request to die. The Assisted Dying Bill in the UK sets out that a doctor must be satisfied that a patient has a terminal illness, has full mental capacity and is able to make a voluntary decision free from any pressure. Many people who are suffering severe discomfort due to old age or whose quality of life has rapidly deteriorated due to a terrible illness should be permitted to make the decision to end their own lives if they wish to do so. The majority of people do not want to see their loved ones suffer terribly and unnecessarily as a result of their right to die not being provided for.  Euthanasia which comes from the Greek “eu thanatos” literally translates as “good death” and isn’t that all we could really hope for when the inevitable occurs? Providing for the right to die could make that a viable option for those people.

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