As readers of this journal only too painfully know, in May 2018 Ireland voted by a two-to-one margin to remove from its Constitution the amendment protecting the right to life of unborn children. It was a devastating blow not just to the pro-life movement in Ireland, but to the movement everywhere. Conversely, it was a huge shot in the arm for pro-choice campaigners everywhere.
In fact, Ireland helped to set down a new template for how a more liberal abortion regime should be greeted—that is, not as a regrettable “necessity” in an imperfect world, but as something to be wildly celebrated as an enormous boon for freedom without any downside whatsoever.
On the day of the result, crowds of ecstatic pro-abortion campaigners gathered in the courtyard of Dublin Castle, one of Ireland’s main public buildings, to celebrate. They shouted and roared and literally wept with delight. If was as if Nazi Germany had just surrendered, or the Berlin Wall had fallen. In their minds, something incontestably good had happened. It was black and white, a simple matter of good triumphing over evil.
The Taoiseach (Prime Minister) and Health Minister gathered on the balcony above the courtyard to accept the acclamation of the crowd. No thought was spared for the almost three-quarters of a million Irish people who had voted to keep the pro-life amendment. They had been defeated and that was that. History had come along and swept them into its dustbin.
The contrast with what happened in 1983 was total. That year, the pro-life clause (the Eighth Amendment) had been inserted into the Constitution by a margin of two-to-one, the exact opposite of the 2018 result. But were there wild public celebrations on that occasion? Was the courtyard of Dublin Castle opened up to revellers? Did politicians arrive to accept the congratulations of the crowd? No.
And the reason is simple: the Irish media, led by the State broadcaster, RTE, hated the result. They greeted it with funereal tones. Victorious pro-life campaigners were invited onto programs to be questioned by hostile interviewers. The defeated side was invited to attack them for what they had done. We were told, in effect, to be ashamed of what we had done.
Now that liberal abortion laws are to be actively celebrated in public, others have followed suit. When Andrew Cuomo signed a more permissive abortion measure into law in New York in January 2019, only months after the Irish result, he did so with a broad smile on his face, and One World Trade Center was lit up in celebration.
And what was to be celebrated? Only the “small” matter of a law expanding the grounds under which an abortion can take place after 24 weeks, near the point of viability. Yes, we Irish had set a terrible precedent in more ways than one.
Now that abortion is in the bag, the time has come to move on to the next item on the agenda: assisted suicide. Pro-life campaigners warned this would happen. They were accused of scaremongering by their opponents. They were told the issues of abortion and assisted suicide were completely different from each other, without ever really being offered an explanation of why this was so. But I think before moving on to what is happening on this front, I should spend a little longer outlining exactly what has occurred since Irish people decided to legalize abortion.
Our new abortion law came into effect in January 2019. It permits abortion for any reason up to 12 weeks, and after that when the life or health of the mother is in danger. It can also be performed after 12 weeks when the baby is diagnosed with an abnormality deemed by doctors to be lethal.
Already, we have seen the dire effects of this law. Soon after the law was passed, one couple were told by doctors that their baby had an abnormality which would kill it. They proceeded with the termination, but when the results of a second test came back, it turned out the baby was perfectly healthy. This story hasn’t caused the fuss it ought to have. Apparently, hard cases are only ever to be used against prolifers, never against pro-choicers.
More recently, a piece of research based on interviews with 10 doctors who are performing abortions in Irish hospitals was published. Its core point is that some doctors are frightened they might face prosecution if it is uncertain whether a particular baby’s genetic abnormality is fatal, and they proceed to terminate anyway. The doctors want this grey area removed from the law, as if grey areas can ever be removed completely from medicine.
But the report also provided a terrible, horrifying insight into the nature of abortion. The doctors interviewed admitted that when a baby is late term, they must sometimes “stab it in the heart” in order to kill it before delivery.
Some of them refer to themselves as “Doctor Death.” They fear some colleagues look at them with contempt. They admit that killing the baby in the womb is “brutal” and “awful.” They strongly indicated that some of the babies are born alive after abortion, resulting in their “begging people to help” them provide palliative care.
This ought to shock the conscience of the nation and all those who voted yes, but it didn’t, because the research was barely reported. Nothing must be allowed to disturb the consciences of those who bulldozed the Eighth Amendment from the Constitution. (For those who wish to look up the report, it is titled “Fetal medicine specialist experiences of providing a new service of termination of pregnancy for fatal fetal anomaly: a qualitative study.”)
A few months ago, some more information about the awful new regime came to light, namely the first annual report on the number of abortions taking place in Ireland. The figure ought to stick in the mind: 6,666. How horribly symbolic. Again, the number was underreported by the media.
Of the 6,666 terminations, 6542 took place before 12 weeks, 21 were conducted because there was deemed to be a risk to the mother’s life or health, three were carried out because there was an “emergency” risk to her life, and 100 were performed on the fatal abnormality ground.
We were told almost nothing else. In Britain, the U.S., and elsewhere, huge amounts of data are produced. This allows us, for example, to see if women from poor backgrounds, ethnic minorities, unmarried versus married, or younger versus older are more likely to have abortions.
But the Irish Government in its wisdom decided such information would be an invasion of privacy.
In any other field of healthcare (I use that term advisedly), fine-grade demographic information is produced to find out who is more at risk of a particular disease and what parts of the population to target with health information.
But since abortion is not a disease, and because no negative moral judgment whatsoever is to be passed on it, and because every abortion is apparently requested for the best possible reasons under the circumstances, why would we ask any questions? That would be intrusive.
What is to be gained by finding out that poorer women are more likely to have abortions than better-off women and then finding ways to reduce the abortion rate among the first group? Well, by this logic, it doesn’t matter a whit if poverty drives twice or three times or 100 times more women to have abortions than their more affluent counterparts. It’s a totally private choice with no public ramifications whatsoever. Which is obviously baloney, but it’s baloney our Government is perfectly willing to accept for the purposes of the ideology.
Nonetheless, we now know with moral certainty that the Eighth Amendment saved lives. At the absolute outside, if you add together the number of Irish women who went to England for terminations the year before abortion became legal in Ireland, plus a high estimate of the number who used the abortion pill illegally at home, about 5,000 Irish women had abortions in 2018.
Take the 6,666 figure and add in the 375 who still went to England for a termination last year and you get a total of 7,041, an increase of more than 2,000 over that estimate of 5,000, which is almost certainly on the high side. That 2,000 is the number of unborn lives saved in a single year alone.
We can see that in the 35 years of its existence, the Eighth Amendment saved tens of thousands of lives. This should not be underestimated. It was a huge achievement.
It is also encouraging that half of Ireland’s maternity units still won’t perform abortions because a lot of doctors remain pro-life and will have nothing to do with it. The vast majority of doctors in general practice won’t prescribe the abortion pill. At the last count, only about 10 percent are willing to do so.
Now, on to the issue of assisted suicide. In order to convince people to vote for abortion in 2018, pro-choice campaigners and their media allies highlighted the hard cases and the right to choose to do whatever you want with your own body.
Well, now that the Irish people are sold on those arguments, it becomes a relatively simple thing to sell them assisted suicide.
The arguments are the same. It is a “compassionate” response to the hard cases of those suffering from terminal illnesses and unbearable pain. In addition, people should be given the choice of dying through assisted suicide if that is their wish. Who are we to deny them their autonomy?
During the abortion referendum campaign, when people like Kevin Doran, the bishop of Elphin in the west of Ireland, warned that euthanasia was next, he was attacked for “scaremongering.”
Now, suddenly, even quicker than many of the worst pessimists predicted, assisted suicide is nearly upon us. It could be law by this time next year.
Gino Kenny, a far-left member of our parliament (which we call the Dail), published a Private Member’s Bill in September called the “Dying with Dignity Bill.”
Usually Private Members’ Bills get nowhere because they lack Government support. But this one is different. A vote on it took place in October in the Dail, and it was advanced to second stage, that is, committee stage, where it will be scrutinized by members of the Justice Committee.
TDs (as we call our MPs) in the Government parties were allowed a free vote. Some very significant Government members voted in favor of the Bill, including Deputy Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, Health Minister Stephen Donnelly, and Justice Minister Helen McEntee.
The vote took place as the country was (and is) convulsed and distracted by Covid-19. It is highly likely that most members of the public are barely aware that euthanasia is now on the legislative tracks and moving fast along them. There have been a handful of debates in the media, some of which I have taken part in, but if you blinked, you’d have missed them. The topic has not made it to the top of the news bulletins or the front pages of the newspaper in the way it deserves, despite its enormous moral gravity. Instead, it is almost as though the media have ordained that the less attention they give it, the less likely there is to be much opposition.
Also, and vitally, this time there doesn’t have to be a referendum. The reason the pro-life amendment was inserted into the Constitution back in 1983 was precisely to prevent the possibility of a hard case being used to bounce the Dail into passing abortion legislation. Only the people could decide that.
But nothing in our Constitution prevents the Dail from voting in favor of assisted suicide. In fact, a few years ago the Irish Supreme Court explicitly told politicians that they could do so. A case had come before the court involving a woman who had advanced MS. She wanted to be allowed to avail herself of assisted suicide, or “medical assistance in dying” as they like to call it in Canada. She claimed her right to privacy was being violated. The court ruled against her but expressed full sympathy and basically told politicians it was up to them now to decide what to do.
This was before the abortion referendum, which the Government wanted to get out of the way first. Therefore, assisted suicide was put on the backburner, but, given the scale of the pro-abortion victory in May 2018, those who also back assisted suicide were emboldened.
The only concern the leaders of the two main governing parties—Fianna Fail and Fine Gael—have is that by passing some version of Kenny’s Bill they might alienate a few more of their pro-life voters when neither party is in great electoral shape at present, especially the more traditionally conservative of the two, Fianna Fail. This is why they would prefer to see the Bill sneak through like a thief in the night with as little fuss or debate as possible.
It is true that the current Taoiseach (Prime Minister) and leader of Fianna Fail Micheal Martin voted against the Bill when it was being moved to second stage in October, but it is quite likely that his view will “evolve,” as it did in the case of abortion, when he moved from opposing abortion to being in favor. Lots of our politicians “evolved” in the same way, just like Joe Biden in America.
Plenty of “evolving” is also taking part with regard to assisted suicide.
The Bill in question, by the way, is only 12 pages long, which is pitiful given its importance. An equivalent piece of legislation legalizing assisted suicide in the Australian state of Victoria (in June 2019) runs to 137 pages.
I debated Gino Kenny on radio when his Bill was first being proposed. It was quickly apparent he did not understand his own piece of legislation. He said it mentions “unbearable pain.” It doesn’t. He said a person would need to be nearing the end of his or her life before choosing assisted suicide. It doesn’t require that either. It only says the person needs to be diagnosed with a terminal illness, but doesn’t stipulate how close to the end of life he or she needs to be.
Therefore, a person could be diagnosed with a terminal illness tomorrow, have potentially years of life remaining, and begin the approval process for assisted suicide on the spot. Two weeks later, that person could receive a lethal injection if two doctors were found willing to authorize it. Note also that the Bill says only that the person is “likely” to die from the illness. Does this mean they are 51 percent likely to die from it? “Terminal illness” is so broadly defined it could cover dementia.
Despite this, supporters of the Bill, including Kenny, say assisted suicide would be fenced around with all sorts of safeguards, which even a cursory examination of the short Bill confirms is manifest nonsense. Nonetheless, journalists were happy to parrot the Kenny line about safeguards despite all evidence to the contrary. It was as though they hadn’t read the Bill themselves.
And it also looked like many of the politicians who voted to move it to committee stage hadn’t read the document either. Certainly, there was little or no evidence of it when the Bill was “debated” in the Dail. In that “debate,” only one pro-life voice was given the floor. Everyone else given speaking time was for the Bill. The standard of contributions for the most part was embarrassingly low.
This is not how a serious democracy operates, or indeed any serious society. Something of such moral magnitude ought to be debated in a serious way. Instead you got the impression that most TDs who took part in the debate merely wanted to signal their liberal virtue to their supporters rather than do the hard work of reading the Bill, researching what has happened in other countries, hearing other voices honestly and respectfully, and then allowing the public a proper say in the debate.
But how can you have a proper public debate when all people hear about are the hard cases, when they are not informed of how quickly the grounds for assisted suicide have expanded in countries like Belgium and the Netherlands, and when they are told that it is “compassionate” to support such a measure and hard-hearted or dogmatic to oppose it?
Needless to say, the voices of the Churches will not be heeded in any debate we do have. In any case, the Catholic bishops have been very quiet for the most part about the matter, and the outgoing archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin has been absolutely silent. Therefore, many ordinary, Mass-going Catholics are blissfully unaware of what is coming their way, or how utterly relevant the development is to them given how many are past retirement age.
Probably the only group capable of stopping the Bill in its tracks is the palliative care doctors. No one deals more with patients nearing the end of their lives than they do, and no one can accuse them of lacking compassion. If euthanasia and assisted suicide are “pro-compassion,” then surely they, out of all groups, should be most in favor?
But it is precisely because they deal with people at their most vulnerable that they are opposed to assisted suicide. They know the terrible signal that legalizing it would send to patients with terminal illnesses: namely, that their lives are not really worth living anymore and that suicide is now considered a perfectly acceptable, totally understandable option to place before them. It invites them to feel like a burden to themselves and others, to consider their lives to be “unbearable.” Patients diagnosed with MS, Parkinson’s Disease, even dementia will feel less valued. And they will feel even less so when they hear other people with such conditions explain why they want to die by lethal substance.
In fact, in the assisted suicide debate, we throw out all the usual rules about how we discuss suicide in general. One of those rules is that we should take great care not to present suicide as an understandable way out in difficult circumstances because of the well-known copy-cat effect. If a particular case of suicide is presented too sympathetically, then some people hearing or reading about why a given person killed themselves might think, “That person is like me, maybe I should consider suicide also.”
But in discussions about assisted suicide, the public are explicitly invited to sympathize with the person in “unbearable suffering” who wants to die. So when a person with, say, MS, talks in this way with a sympathetic interviewer, everyone listening who has MS is invited to think in the same way. This is a terrible thing to do, and it is why palliative care doctors oppose assisted suicide. If their voices are given a proper hearing in the Irish debate (such as it is) about assisted suicide, and in particular if politicians listen to them properly, then there is some chance of this Bill being rejected. But if not, it will certainly be passed in some form, and Ireland will then have taken another giant step into the Culture of Death that sees killing the “burdensome” as acceptable and “merciful.”
David Quinn is a columnist with the Irish Independent and the Irish Catholic and the founder and director of the Iona Institute in Dublin (firstname.lastname@example.org). Quinn received the Foundation’s Great Defender of Life award in 2018.