Hardly a surprise. There are a few certainties in life: the sun rises in the east, sets in the west, and the Labour Party is always in favour of the next lefty social change thing, whatever that might be. And predictably enough, this time, it’s euthanasia:
The Labour Party has thrown its support behind the pending ‘Dying with Dignity’ bill, due to be debated in the Dáil next week.
The private members’ bill, being tabled by Solidarity-People Before Profit TD Gino Kenny and originally designed by former minister John Halligan, seeks to allow terminally ill people access services to help them die.
The controversial bill, which is facing stiff opposition from the Government, is being strongly backed by cancer campaigner Vicky Phelan.
Alan Kelly, the Labour leader, speaking to the Irish Examiner, confirmed his party’s intention to support the bill.
He said this is an issue which can “no longer be kicked down the road” and needs to be dealt with quickly.
If you read the original dying with dignity bill, which is available on the Oireachtas website, you’d have to note that it’s drafted about as tightly as these things can be. The proposal restricts assisted suicide to those who are terminally ill with no hope of recovery, and requires them to make a declaration that death is their wish. The doctor would not actually inject them with something, but would instead provide a lethal drug for them to take themselves. As euthanasia proposals go, the bill is drafted about as tightly as it’s possible to get.
But of course, that is not the problem with it. The international experience of euthanasia and assisted suicide has been that it starts off slowly, and then accelerates. In Holland, for example, where euthanasia was introduced in 2002, there were merely twenty or so cases in the first two years. By 2016, however, one in eight of all deaths in the Netherlands came from Euthanasia, with six thousand and ninety one people dying at the hands of doctors.
Why does this happen, even with a “restrictive” law? Because laws change the culture over time. Whereas at the beginning, taking your own life if you were suffering was a rare choice to be made in exceptional circumstances, over time it becomes the default choice – the exception is those people who choose to live on, in some suffering, to the bafflement of people around them.
When you look at the Dutch figures, what other conclusion is there to come to? Are we to believe that assisted suicide was always this popular? And if so, why are cases constantly increasing? If there was always this level of demand for the right to end your own life, why were there not six thousand cases of it in 2004, or 5, or 6?
The only explanation that makes sense is that when you introduce assisted dying, more and more people come to believe that it is the right thing to do, and more and more doctors begin to assume that it is the default choice, and speak to their patients as if it is the default choice.
What’s more, it becomes the default choice for family and friends, too. Conservative sometimes worry about greedy relatives forcing older people to end their lives, but reality is rarely that black and white. What happens, you suspect, far more often, is a kind of soft, compassionate pressure. “Ah Mam, it kills me to see you suffering like this”. For many of these people, a premature death comes posing as a friend, not an antagonist.
Anyway, as David Mullins noted on this site yesterday, it’s not as if Irish people don’t already have a huge amount of control over their own deaths:
“Under Irish law, all adults have the right to refuse medical treatment, even if that treatment is required to save their life, as long as they have sufficient capacity (the ability to use and understand information to make a decision). All adults are presumed to have sufficient capacity to decide on their own medical treatment, unless there is significant evidence to suggest otherwise.”
The HSE also goes on to note:
“If someone makes a decision about treatment that most people would consider to be irrational, it does not constitute a lack of capacity if the person making the decision understands the reality of their situation. For example, a person may refuse a course of chemotherapy for life-threatening cancer because they would rather not tolerate the side effects of chemotherapy for the sake of a slightly longer life. They understand the reality of their situation and the consequences of their actions and have made a perfectly rational decision.”
Nobody in Ireland is going to force you to continue to live an unnatural life. You’re within your rights, if you so desire, to refuse treatment and accept only pain management medication.
The drafters of this bill are not bad people, and their intentions, plainly, are not bad. Compassion is moving them to offer suffering people a way out of a painful situation, and to many people, the idea of having some control over their own deaths is very comforting, because death is a very scary prospect. Being able to say “I am going to die at 6pm on Tuesday with my family around me” is a very appealing prospect to many sick people, and we shouldn’t under-estimate the lure of that.
But equally, a debate on euthanasia means recognising that everywhere else it has been introduced to date, it very quickly has become the norm. What that means, in practice, is that there are people today who, given the choice, would not choose to die, but who would end up making a different choice in ten years’ time. Is it their choice, or a choice society pushes them into? My own view is that it’s clearly the latter, because there is no other explanation.
The Labour Party, though, disagrees.