A leading euthanasia campaigner has voiced his support for allowing euthanasia and assisted suicide for the “healthy” partners of sick people who want to end their own lives in Ireland.
Tom Curran is Exit International’s Ireland director, and the most prominent campaigner for the introduction of a ‘right to die’ law in Ireland, and he appeared on The Pat Kenny Show on Newstalk on Tuesday.
In 2013, Mr Curran’s partner of 25 years, Marie Fleming, brought a landmark case before Ireland’s High Court and later to the constitutional Supreme Court, arguing that as a sufferer of MS, she had a constitutional right to receive assistance to die. Both courts found against Ms Fleming, who died died in December 2013 of MS.
In February 2022, Exit International launched an Irish wing, headed by Curran. The setting up of the group, which campaigns for assisted suicide, followed a Dail decision to establish a special Oireachtas committee to examine voluntary assisted dying. The committee has now begun work on the issue.
Exit International was formed back in 1997 by Philip Nitschke, an Australian doctor and creator of the hugely controversial Sarco suicide pod, a euthanasia device. The non-profit organisation claims that “a good death is a fundamental human right of all rational adults”. The organisation’s aim in Ireland is to lobby for assisted suicide and euthanasia legislation to be passed – and not to be solely limited to terminally ill people.
The organisation supports the right of any adult to die by suicide, with the assistance of someone else if needed, once they can make a ‘rational’ decision to do so – the individual need not be suffering from any illness.
“Exit advocates for the introduction of a Swiss-style law where help depends upon the motive of the person assisting, rather than the terminal illness status of the patient requesting medical help,” its website states.
During a Newstalk debate on Tuesday, Tom Curran debated the issue of assisted suicide and euthanasia, joined by David Quinn, Director of The Iona Institute and Irish Independent columnist – who argued against the contentious practise.
Speaking on the radio show on Tuesday, Mr Curran said it was “simply a matter of choice”.
He argued that euthanasia or assisted suicide would “not be something that would be taken up very widely,” but insisted there would still be a demand for it.
Host Pat Kenny pressed Mr Curran on the limits regarding euthanasia, asking whether the power of hindsight would possibly lead to many people in pain seeing things differently.
“Many people go through tough times in their lives,” Kenny pointed out. “And they look back on it and they say, ‘that was an awful time but I came through it’. So, the idea that someone at a particular juncture might make a decision which if they lived to regret it – which they don’t in this case – they would say, ‘Why did I do that?’”
Responding, Mr Curran said the issue of euthanasia was about “planning ahead” for the possibility of ending their own lives.
“What we are talking about here is a situation where a person has an illness […] and they want a peaceful, easy death”.
Responding, David Quinn said that the very conversation being had – talking about the circumstances under which people kill themselves, either on their own or with somebody elses’s help – was only contributing to the normalisation of suicide.
He said that while suicide was decriminalised in Ireland in 1993, that did not create a “right” to suicide – but that the reason behind this was to make it easier for people who had attempted suicide to come forward without the law hanging over their heads, and ultimately, in order to try and reduce the suicide rate, and to make it easier to talk about and to try and intervene.
“That was an anti-suicide measure,” he told the programme, adding: “There’s no right to suicide, and there’s no right to assisted suicide”.
He pointed out that the goal should be to dissuade people from ending their lives, adding that there are very extensive campaigns and help available to people struggling.
Mr Quinn pointed out that Exit International, of which Mr Curran is Irish Director, does not simply advocate for suicide for the terminally ill – but promotes assisted suicide under a range of grounds.
‘COUPLES WHO GO TOGETHER’
“It’s for people who are maybe chronically ill, or for people who are just old, and might have gotten tired of life”. He said that Exit International advocates for suicide for couples who wish to “go together”.
He referred to Mr Curran travelling to Switzerland with a couple at the end of 2021 – one of whom was ill and the other wasn’t. The couple wanted to ‘go together’ even though just one of them was seriously ill.
On its website, Exit International offers an ‘Exit Membership’ for couples, which includes free exit workshops (livestream and in-person), peaceful pill handbook forums, exit chapters (local meetings), a ‘deliverance newsletter’ and more.
Back in December 2021, while Speaking on Claire Byrne Live, Mr Curran said he was currently in Switzerland helping a couple to die.
“The main reason I’m here is to meet a couple of people who are travelling to Switzerland to avail of their [Switzerland’s] very humane way of dealing with this issue, where they will allow people to travel to their country to die, to be helped to die,” he told the RTE programme.
Describing the couple, he said: “They’re an elderly couple, one of them is quite sick, and the other one has decided they just don’t want to live without them. So that’s their reason for travelling to Switzerland, where they have a humane, civilised attitude to it and will help them to go together”.
When it was put to him by Claire Byrne that the woman was healthy, and this might make some people uncomfortable, he rejected the idea that the scenario was problematic: “It’s not my place to judge anybody. I have no right to tell anybody else what they should or shouldn’t do”.
“This is what Exit International wants right now,” David Quinn told Newstalk. “Exit International isn’t even pretending they don’t want grounds to expand; they want it available on extremely permissive grounds,” the Iona Institute boss said.
The Exit Ireland Director failed to dismiss the assertion, and replied by stating that he would want to see all situations catered for by the Irish Legislature – though in his view this was unlikely to happen.
When asked if he would propose all of Exit’s policies for Ireland’s legislature, Mr Curran said that he wouldn’t, replying:
“No, of course not, because there wouldn’t be a hope in hell of that [getting passed]”.
“But it’s ultimately what you want, though?” Mr Quinn asked, with regards to Exit International’s goals. Mr Curran replied, “Of course, yes, but just because we want things doesn’t mean we can have them”.
Mr Quinn told Pat Kenny that Mr Curran had “no philosophical objection” to a couple dying together by assisted suicide – even if one of them was perfectly healthy. Mr Curran did not refute the claim in any way.
“But the slippery slope is right there in front of us, we see it,” Mr Quinn continued, to which Mr Curran argued back, “I’m sorry, but I disagree that the slippery slope even exists”.
Mr Curran did however admit, using the case of Canada, that when the law allows people to have something, there will be an ‘infinitesimal increase’, responding: “If they want to take it up, they will […] this is a matter of choice”.
Mr Quinn claimed that by Curran’s own assertions, the campaigner had inadvertently admitted that a slippery slope does exist – with his answer admitting there had been an increase in assisted suicide deaths in countries including Canada.
Mr Quinn went on to point out that once you introduce assisted suicide – and you see a human being ‘put down’ as it were, it sends a message to other people, particularly those maybe with the same condition, “Maybe that’s the option for me” – radically changing social norms.
You can listen back to the conversation in full here.