The Law on Euthanasia & Assisted Suicide in Ireland
Active Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide are currently illegal in the Republic of Ireland.
With regard to Assisted Suicide, under the Criminal Law (Suicide) Act 1993, it is an offence if someone ‘aids, abets, counsels or procures the suicide of another, or an attempt by another to commit suicide’. The penalty upon conviction for this offence is a maximum sentence of 14 years imprisonment.
With regards to Euthanasia, there is no specific crime of such, as deliberately ending the life of another person would be murder, contrary to common law and section 4 of the Criminal Justice Act 1964. The penalty upon conviction for this offence is a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.
- Case Law
In spring 2013, the constitutionality of the Criminal Law (Suicide) Act 1993 was upheld in both the High Court and Supreme Court, in the landmark Fleming v Ireland decision. Whilst the Supreme Court determined that there was no constitutional right to assisted suicide, it did state that the Oireachtas was free to pass legislation regulating it. Thus for Euthanasia or Assisted Suicide to become legal in the Republic of Ireland, a simple majority of the Dáil and Seanad would need to pass the required legislation.
The first Irish prosecution for assisting another person to die by suicide took place in 2015, but the defendant was found not guilty – see a news report on the case here.
Passive Euthanasia (i.e. quickening the death of the patient by removing feeding tubes etc) is permissible in Ireland. This has been the case since the Supreme Court decision in In Re Ward of Court 1996.
- Medical Council Guidelines
The Medical Council Guidelines make the above legal position clear in section 46 of its Guide to Professional Conduct and Ethics (8th Edition 2019). It mandates to registered medical professionals:
46.9 You must not take part in the deliberate killing of a patient.
The ethical guidelines around passive Euthanasia are also given in this section:
46.3 Usually, you will give treatment that is intended to prolong a patient’s life. However, there is no obligation on you to start or continue treatment, including resuscitation, or provide nutrition and hydration by medical intervention, if you judge that the treatment:
is unlikely to work; or
might cause the patient more harm than benefit; or
is likely to cause the patient pain, discomfort or distress that will outweigh the benefits it may bring.