More than 2100 doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals have signed an open letter strongly opposing a bill which seeks to legalise assisted suicide in Ireland.
The letter, organised by Irish Healthcare Professionals for Dignity in Living and Dying, was published ahead of submissions being made to the Oireachtas Justice Committee which is examining a bill proposed by Socialist TD Gino Kenny which seeks to make assisted suicide legal for the first time.
More than 2100 signatories agreed with the statement that “as good healthcare already allows people to die with dignity in Ireland, a Bill introducing assisted suicide is therefore not necessary”.
The medics said they were “gravely concerned by the proposal to legislate for assisted suicide and euthanasia, also described as assisted dying in Ireland. As healthcare professionals we have respect for each individual, value personal autonomy and also share an interest in protecting and advocating for people who are nearing the end of their lives and who may be vulnerable and at risk.”
They warned of the danger to vulnerable people saying “we believe the bill creates risks for many receiving healthcare that outweigh any potential benefits. This concern is based on our collective experience over many decades of providing health care to people and their families in Ireland.”
“We are concerned about the impact on people who already struggle to have their voices heard in our society – older adults, the disabled, those with mental illness and others. We fear that the most vulnerable may be made to feel a burden to their families and come under pressure to end their lives prematurely,” the letter said.
They also pointed to the lack of public awareness in regard to managing pain and distress at the end of life.
“Through our experiences we are aware that many people in our society don’t really know what dying is like, or how rare it is that severe pain cannot be controlled. Most people are not aware that the easing of physical, psychological or spiritual distress and addressing people’s fears, hopes, sadness and loss can transform the experiences of living, dying and bereavement for individual patients and their families,” they said.
“We believe that as good healthcare already allows people to die with dignity in Ireland, a Bill introducing assisted suicide is therefore not necessary. Dying and death will come to us all – the people of Ireland must therefore engage in more open discussion of living, of living with illness, of advance care planning, of what palliative care really is, and of dying, death and bereavement,” the letter continued.
“For all the above reasons we believe the proposed bill legislating for euthanasia and assisted suicide should not become law,” they asserted.
Palliative Care Consultants have been to the fore in speaking against Assisted Suicide with 88% of those polled by the representative organisation in Ireland expressing opposition to the measure.
AONTÚ CALL FOR BETTER SUPPORTS INSTEAD
Meanwhile, as part of its submission to the Justice Committee, Aontú called for the state to invest in supporting and caring for vulnerable people.
Aontú Leader, Peadar Tóibín TD said: “The level of scrutiny that this Bill has received to date has been dangerously low. It has been given only 70 minutes of debate so far with incredibly only one TD being allowed a total of 4 minutes to oppose it”.
“We are concerned that the discourse on the Bill to date has been almost exclusively ideological. The diversity of voices of people with a terminal illness has been absent and the voices of medical professionals who work in this area and who in the main oppose this Bill have been almost completely ignored. The voice of the medical professionals with the most knowledge, with the most experience and I would say with the most compassion has been in the main deleted”.
“It is heart-breaking that this debate is being advanced at a time of Covid, when the state has seriously failed so many older people in nursing homes, when economic drivers are already of cutting short (mostly vulnerable) peoples’ lives, when the state is refusing to provide a medical card to all who have a terminal illness and invest in the proper provision of services for people with disabilities”.
“We have no doubt that many of the proponents of this Bill do so for reasons of empathy and compassion. However in the small number of countries that have legalised assisted suicide it has proved impossible to legislate for, without putting enormous pressure on thousands of other elderly citizens and persons with disabilities. The introduction of Assisted Suicide makes many people at the end of life feel like a burden and puts pressure the vulnerable to end their lives. This is not compassion. Legalised Assisted Suicide is an outlier internationally because of the massive problems it can cause within the rest of society. Many progressive nations, such as the Nordic countries, have refused to introduce it due to the massive pressure that it places on older people”.
“We are deeply concerned that in Ireland, as has happened in other countries, this law will radically change the culture of society and see the rates of Assisted Suicide grow far beyond even the numbers anticipated by proponents, in a short space in time. In Belgium 1 in 20 deaths are now recorded as Assisted Suicide/Euthanasia”.
“We are also concerned that Ireland will replicate the increase in suicide rates in the general population that has been seen in other countries where Assisted Suicide has been introduced. How can the State’s Public Health policy say that Suicide is never the right answer but then when it comes to Assisted Suicide say, well actually it is”.
“The Bill as its written is incredibly vague. We am alarmed that any life-limiting condition that cannot be reversed with state-of-art medicine at that time could be construed as ‘terminal’, and so could rob fellow citizens of many years of life that can be fulfilling”.
Deputy Tóibín said that Ireland has a poor track record in protecting the old and the vulnerable. “Since March, Alone’s national support line has received in excess of 31,900 calls for support. Palliative care is underfunded as it stands in Ireland. It is also notable, in many jurisdictions, after legalising Assisted Suicide there tends to be a divestment from health care and support for older people and people with a terminal illness. In Canada, the areas with the lowest investment in palliative care tend to be the areas with the highest level of Assisted Suicide. In California, some Medical Insurance Companies provide funding for Assisted Suicide but do not pay for Chemotherapy,” he said.
“The provisions contained in this Bill offer neither compassion nor dignity. Indeed, the utter lack of clarity and safeguards would actively endanger the weakest and most vulnerable members of our society.
We, as a society, cannot disregard our duty to protect and vindicate the rights of the vulnerable individuals who would be disproportionately disadvantaged were this Bill to become law,” he said