A leading medical expert has said that the Assisted Suicide bill ignores the better option of good palliative care, and pointed to a High Court ruling saying that it would be “impossible” to ensure that older and more vulnerable people would be protected from coming under pressure to end their lives.  

Dr  Anthony O’Brien, Clinical Professor of Palliative Medicine in UCC wrote in the Irish Times today that he had worked in hospice care for over 35 years, and “met very many patients who in desperation asked to have their life ended, believing that they had no other option. With good palliative care, the overwhelming majority had occasion to change their minds. With suicide, there is no going back”.

He referred to the High Court ruling in the Fleming case where “The judgment concluded that, “even with the most rigorous systems of legislative checks and safeguards, it would be impossible to ensure that the aged, the disabled, the poor, the unwanted, the rejected, the lonely, the impulsive, the financially compromised and emotionally vulnerable would not avail of this option to avoid a sense of being a burden to their family and society”.

Prof O’Brien wrote:

At a time when we are starting to see a most welcome reduction in the overall number of suicides in Ireland, it is ironic that some of our parliamentarians wish to introduce a State-sponsored suicide service, albeit for a select but nevertheless poorly defined and unquantifiable cohort who wish to choose this option.
Opponents are assured that all necessary safeguards will be in place.

The Marie Fleming High Court case (2013) tested the wisdom of introducing such legislation and its effects on wider society.

The judgment concluded that, “even with the most rigorous systems of legislative checks and safeguards, it would be impossible to ensure that the aged, the disabled, the poor, the unwanted, the rejected, the lonely, the impulsive, the financially compromised and emotionally vulnerable would not avail of this option to avoid a sense of being a burden to their family and society”.

I have worked in hospice care for over 35 years. I have met very many patients who in desperation asked to have their life ended, believing that they had no other option. With good palliative care, the overwhelming majority had occasion to change their minds. With suicide, there is no going back.

Surely a compassionate society can be more creative in its response to human suffering than premature, self-inflicted death. Good care is always a better option.

People Before Profit TD, Gino Kenny, yesterday introduced a bill before the Dáil which would permit Assisted Sucide on broad grounds.