Irish attempts to kill off debate on assisted suicide

Attempts to get a public debate going on assisted suicide in Ireland are being dealt with in the time-honoured way , i.e. by smothering it in “pro-life” outrage. The debate is a fledgling one indeed – I hadn’t come across it before until I read this Comment is Free piece by the thwarted lecturer. The well-established and growing UK debate is by no means about simple for-and against advocacy, as this Guardian sample shows. There are fears of excessive pill-popping by the Swiss clinic Dignitas whose founder appears to back something close to suicide on demand. Dignitas claims to have hosted about 100 British clients, so their policy matters very much. These recent comments undoubtedly damage the conscientious and careful case for assisted suicide with safeguards being built up in the UK, for instance in the unsuccessful Joffe Bill. Official opinion is still against. Former Cabinet minister Pat Hewitt’s amendment to the GB Coroner’s Bill, regularising the practice of not-prosecuting suicide helpers was defeated last month. Yet her case stands: bringing the practice within UK control would forestall Dignitas’s over-permissive approach which is now said to be worrying the Swiss authorities.

For NI, we can assume that a united Ireland is already in force over this as well as other life issues and that not a moment of thought has been given to it by the politicians – beyond the usual knee-jerking.

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London