The voices of doctors opposed to euthanasia and assisted suicide must be heard

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Gino Kennt TD. Photo: Houses of the Oireachtas

Siobhan O’Shaughnessy 

In a recent answer to a parliamentary question asked by Carol Nolan TD, the Ministers for Justice and Health both confirmed that they did not consult with palliative care doctors before voting in favour of a euthanasia bill.

The so-called Dying with Dignity Bill was introduced to the Dáil by Gino Kenny TD on 15th September 2020. In a shockingly quick turnaround for an opposition party’s Private Member’s Bill, it was selected for a second stage debate and vote on 7th October. On this date the Dáil voted in favour of advancing the bill to Committee stage by 81 votes to 71.

Both the Minister for Justice, Helen McEntee, and the Minister for Health, Stephen Donnelly voted in favour of the bill. This was despite opposition to the bill from the Irish Palliative Medicine Consultants’ Association, the Royal College of Physicians in Ireland, and the Association for Palliative Medicine of Great Britain and Ireland. In addition, the World Medical Association are firmly opposed to euthanasia and assisted suicide.

McEntee and Donnelly later confirmed via a parliamentary question asked by Carol Nolan TD that neither of them met with nor engaged with the palliative care consultants who were publicly speaking out against this bill. It is hoped that this lack of engagement will not be replicated going forward as the Bill is robustly at Committee stage.

In other countries where euthanasia and assisted suicide has been introduced, the consequences have been catastrophic for people with disabilities and older people.

For example, in the Netherlands, vulnerable people with psychiatric conditions are permitted to be euthanized. Aurelia Brouwers told the BBC News about her situation in January 2018, “I’m 29 years old and I’ve chosen to be voluntarily euthanised. I’ve chosen this because I have a lot of mental health issues.” Similarly in Belgium, euthanasia is an option for people with even mild disabilities. In December 2012, deaf twin brothers Marc & Eddy Verbessem (45) were euthanised after discovering that they would soon go blind. Even in Oregon, where euthanasia is available in supposedly narrow circumstances, the number of people who have opted for this way to die has increased over tenfold, from 16 (1998) to 188 (2019).

It is vital that politicians in Ireland take note of the concrete evidence regarding what has happened in other countries when a regime of euthanasia and assisted suicide is introduced. Vulnerable people are always put at risk.

Hope Ireland is a coalition of medical professionals and disability rights advocates who are firmly opposed to the introduction of euthanasia and assisted suicide. For information on how to get involved with the campaign see www.hopeireland.org