A conference on Assisted Suicide and euthanasia has heard that a bill seeking to legalise Assisted Suicide in Ireland was a simplistic solution to a complex problem and tells people at the end of life that they are a burden.

Joan Freeman, founder of Pieta House and the Centre for the Prevention of Self harm or Suicide warned that “If this bill goes through, we are telling people at the end of life that they are a burden”. She also said that there was a need for a new narrative on how we speak about the issue of death and suicide prevention, making every member of society feel valued.

A panel of nine disability rights advocates, medical professionals, and suicide prevention experts took issue with the euthanasia bill before the Dáil at Saturday’s conference. Speakers included Baroness Ilora Finlay, Elma Walsh, Joan Freeman and Dr Miriam Colleran.

Organisers Hope Ireland said the “End of Life Matters” conference focussed on positive end of life care options and resisting calls to legalise euthanasia and assisted suicide in Ireland, and that almost 1,000 people joined the event online.

Much of the discussion focussed around the Bill before the Dáil and the international experience of how similar legislation has led to a significant increase in the number of people requesting to have their lives ended. Discussion at the conference also addressed the issue of palliative care provision and how much more needs to be done to make people aware of the tremendous advances that have taken place in this area in assisting and caring for people diagnosed with a terminal illness.

Baroness Ilora Finlay, leading palliative care consultant and member of the UK’s House of Lords gave an international perspective on the issue and told the conference that research from Oregon and elsewhere shows that a significant percentage of people opt for euthanasia because they feel they will be a burden on their family and on society. She said that Bills like the one currently before the Dáil “present a simplistic solution to a complex problem”. She stressed that very few people request to have their lives ended because they are experiencing pain, even though the public perception is that people request euthanasia on these grounds.

Conor Lynott, recent UCD graduate and young disability rights advocate said the introduction of euthanasia in Ireland would have a huge cultural impact and inevitably lead to an increase in people with a disability or terminal illness feeling that they are a burden on society.

Kathleen Rogers, who has Motor Neurone Disease, told the conference that politicians who voted for euthanasia may be unaware that the message their vote sends to people like her is that her life is less worthy than others. She spoke about the need to send a strong message that every human life has dignity and value, and no one should be made feel like they are a burden on others.

The issue of pain management for people with a terminal illness was discussed by a panel of medical experts in palliative care. Dr Miriam Colleran, palliative care consultant in Naas General Hospital; Dr Sarah McLean, consultant in palliative medicine at the Blackrock Clinic and St Vincent’s Hospital and Dr Faith Cranfield, palliative care consultant Connolly Hospital and St Francis Hospice Blanchardstown.

Among the issues the medical panel discussed were advances in pain management for people with a terminal illness. They stressed that these cases are being managed very successfully today and that this is something that the public needs to know about.

Elma Walsh of the Donal Walsh #LiveLife Foundation spoke movingly about her son Donal who died in 2013 from cancer after reaching national prominence encouraging young people to cherish the opportunity of life that they had been given. Elma spoke about her experience of palliative care when her son was ill, and how this care enabled him and the whole family to better come to terms with the situation they were facing.

Alex Schadenberg, Executive Director of Canada’s Euthanasia Prevention Coalition addressed the conference live from Canada, and spoke about the dramatic increase in deaths by euthanasia in Canada since the law changed 5 years ago there.