Mary Lou McDonald has called for a national conversation on the right to die, saying the political system has “dragged its heels” on the issue.
The Sinn Fein president said campaigners like Vicky Phelan, who have called on Government to introduce laws to give terminally ill people the option of medically assisted death, have made “a really compelling case”.
Ms McDonald said although the issue is “fraught and sensitive”, that does not absolve legislators from taking action, and that the debate must not drag on “endlessly for another decade”.
She said: “I think that Vicky and, indeed others, have made a really compelling case based on human dignity and choice.
“I follow very carefully what they have to say.
“I also listen very carefully to those who deliver palliative care, who are all about dignity in death.
We need to listen to all of the perspectives and then we need to take a decisionMary Lou McDonald
“I think we need to we need to step our way through this issue with considerable thoughtfulness, because it’s a fairly fraught and sensitive issue.
“The fact that it’s fraught and sensitive does not absolve us as legislators from actually taking decisions and moving moving the debate on.
“I would like to think that we will not have a debate around this issue that drags on endlessly for another decade.
“I mean, I think we are now at a point where we need to have the conversation, we need to listen to the evidence, we need to listen to all of the perspectives and then we need to take a decision.”
Ms McDonald said, while she has yet to take a firm position on the issue, a decision is needed sooner rather than later.
She told the PA news agency: “I have an open mind on it.
“I don’t have a fixed or a firm view, except that the political system has dragged its heels.
“We need to get to a position where we make a call on things and to do that, and to do that well and do it honourably, we need to have all of the perspectives.”
The subject has been brought to the fore by campaigners like Ms Phelan, the terminally ill cervical cancer campaigner, who has called publicly on Government to act.
She has supported legislation brought forward by People Before Profit TD Gino Kenny, the Dying With Dignity Bill 2020, but has expressed frustration with a lack of political will to move on the issue.
Ms McDonald has heaped praise on Ms Phelan, saying she is paying close attention to her campaign.
“I mean, what an incredible woman, what an incredible advocate,” she said.
“Anything she says, and people like Vicky, it certainly lands with me and I hear her loud and clear.”