The cervical cancer campaigner Vicky Phelan has said she is supporting a Bill to allow terminally ill patients decide the timing of their own death because it will allow people like her to die peacefully and with dignity.
Ms Phelan said she was also supporting the legislation being brought by Dublin TD Gino Kenny because it was very rigid in its direction and would not lead to a so-called “slippery slope”.
She pleaded with political parties in the Dáil to allow a free vote on the Bill because it is an issue of conscience.
“It’s not like I would choose to do that now in case people would think it would be something I would choose to do when I’m well. Absolutely not. This Bill is about giving people who are at the end of their lives in pain, the choice to do so gently before that happens, so that they don’t have a certain amount of suffering, unnecessary suffering.
“We don’t do it to animals. I don’t see why we should do it to ourselves,” she said.
Ms Phelan said it was only for people with terminal illnesses.
“I know there are some concerns about this being a slippery slope, for example, allowing people with depression to die.
“I have suffered from depression myself and I know if this Bill had been in when I was in a really bad place I may have taken advantage of it.
“That would have been the wrong decision because I’m fine now.”
At a media event outside Leinster House, Mr Kenny, a People Before Profit TD for Dublin Mid-West said the Bill would give a person the legal and medical right to authorise voluntary assisted dying when the person was suffering from a terminal illness.
Prominent Right-to-Die campaigner Tom Curran said that there were many freedoms in Ireland but it did not extend to the end of life. “The unfortunate thing is that we haven’t extended that freedom to the way people end their life. We don’t allow people the choice when it comes to die.”
Mr Curran spoke about his wife, Marie Fleming, who before her death campaigned as a person with terminal illness the right to chose the moment of her passing.
“The first I suppose first time it became (known) in the public domain was when Mario and I had put a plan together for Marie’s end of life, irrespective of the fact that it was illegal.
“We broke the law, and we put a plan in place that Marie would end her life whenever she liked – well, as her Multiple Sclerosis got progressively worse.
“And I promised her that irrespective of the law that I would help her anytime she liked… We had an extra five years of life, from the time that she decided not to go to Dignitas (a clinic in Switzerland that assists terminal ill people to die) because she was now in control herself.
“That’s all we are asking for, is giving people that control,” he said.
Gail O’Rourke also said she found herself on the wrong side of the law when assisting her friend Bernadette, who also suffered from MS.
“People speak of the slippery slope, which isn’t really evident in countries where this is legal. And if they could be investigated by the HSE (or by) the Garda, just to make sure that that person is making the decision for themselves, under no duress which is what people fear,” she said.
Similar legislation has come before the Houses of the Oireachtas before but has not been progressed. Labour Party leader Alan Kelly said he supported the Bill. Sinn Féin may also support it. The Cabinet will decide its position on the Bill on Tuesday.