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John Wal. Photograph by John Kelly

Quin health advocate welcomes discussion about Dying with Dignity Bill

CONTROVERSIAL legislation which seeks to give those with a terminal illness the right to authorise voluntary, assisted dying, is being backed by a prominent Clare health campaigner.

John Wall, who has a terminal cancer diagnosis, said that the Dying with Dignity Bill, which has been introduced to the Dáil by Deputy Gino Kenny, is about offering a choice so that people can die peacefully. Mr Wall has now added his voice to those including cervical screening campaigner Vicky Phelan, who are calling for a mature debate on the issue of assisted dying.

“There are many people with terminal illnesses who die peacefully,” the Quin resident said. “There are others, sadly, who don’t. Some cancers ravage the body and the mind and, for a fraction of people, no amount of medication will allow them to pass with dignity. You have to ask if there is a need for someone to die in pain, or drugged to the point where they don’t know what is going on and cannot say their goodbyes. You have to wonder if family and loved ones should have to witness this. What the Bill is about is offering a choice.”

Mr Wall disagreed with claims that the Bill could pave the way for widespread euthanasia but stressed that all view points needed to be acknowledged and respected while the issue was being debated. “Some of the media reporting on the issue borders on the sensationalist,” he said. “The Bill makes it very clear that strict controls would be put in place and that this is purely there to offer people a choice. This would be something that would apply only at the very end of life when there is no hope of survival. It would have to be signed off on by two medical practitioners and it would be there as an option if someone wanted that option.”

Mr Wall also agreed with calls from Vicky Phelan and others for a free vote, and that politicians would not be subject to a party whip. “I believe that a free vote would be very important on this issue,” he said. “There are many religious views on this issue and those have to be absolutely respected. That is democracy and a range of opinions have to be heard and respected. The really important thing is that we should be talking about this issue. Nobody is saying that this is something that is going to happen overnight, and it’s natural that people will have different views. The one thing I would urge here is that people would listen to those who are directly affected and that people’s views are informed. I have experience of seeing someone die in pain, knowing that they didn’t want to die in pain. I have reflected a lot on that situation and that informs my own views.”

To-date Sinn Féin have leant their backing to the bill and pledged to support the progress of new legislation.

Last Monday morning, Deputy Eoin O’Broin said his party will support the Bill moving to the next stage in the Dáil when it comes up for debate.

“Our view is that we think we should allow the Bill to pass through second stage so that you can have that full and frank proper discussion in the committee before we decide how to proceed,” he said.

Labour Party leader Alan Kelly has also expressed support for the draft legislation.

The Bill is currently at second stage in the Dáil, meaning that its general principles are being debated. There are a total of five stages for legislation in the Dáil. So-called ‘committee stages’ include provision for amendments to be tabled. If the legislation makes it through the Dáil, it would have to go through a further five stages in the upper house – and potentially more amendments – before being signed into law by the President.

In 2015, former TD John Halligan introduced a similar Bill. It followed a Supreme Court case taken by the late Maria Curran in 2013 who sought to establish a Constitutional right to die, and freedom from prosecution of her husband, Tom, if he helped her to end her life.

About Fiona McGarry

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Fiona McGarry joined The Clare Champion as a reporter after a four-year stint as producer of Morning Focus on Clare FM. Prior to that she worked for various radio, print and online titles, including Newstalk, Maximum Media and The Tuam Herald. Fiona’s media career began in her native Mayo when she joined Midwest Radio. She is the maker of a number of radio documentaries, funded by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI). She has also availed of the Simon Cumbers Media Fund to report on development issues supported by Irish Aid in Haiti. She won a Justice Media Award for a short radio series on the work of Bedford Row Project, which supports prisoners and families in the Mid-West. Fiona also teaches on the Journalism programmes at NUI Galway. If you have a story and would like to get in touch with Fiona you can email her at fmcgarry@clarechampion.ie or telephone 065 6864146.

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