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Psychiatrists group raises concerns with assisted dying bill

The group is concerned that it will be introduced for people with terminal illnesses, but that it will then be “applied more broadly”.

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A GROUP REPRESENTING 1,000 psychiatrists in Ireland has said that it is against physician assisted dying, ahead of a proposed new law to be debated by a special Oireachtas committee next year. 

The College of Psychiatrists of Ireland has said today that physician-assisted dying “is not compatible with good medical care and that its introduction in Ireland could place vulnerable patients at risk”.

The College of Psychiatrists is the professional and training body that represents 1,000 professional psychiatrists, both specialists and trainees, across the country.

It has published a position paper on assisted dying today, stating that assisted dying is “contrary to the efforts of psychiatrists, other mental health staff and the public to prevent deaths by suicide”.

It also believes that it is likely “to place vulnerable people at risk – many requests for assisted dying stem from issues such as fear of being a burden or fear of death rather than from intractable pain”.

The group is concerned that it will be introduced for people with terminal illnesses, but that it will then be “applied more broadly to other groups”.

The Dying with Dignity Bill

The formation of a special committee to look at the issue of assisted dying was recommended in July, following the passage of the Dying with Dignity Bill in the Dáil last year.

The legislation would permit terminally ill people to avail of medical assistance to die in certain circumstances. It would give a medical practitioner the legal right to provide assistance to a qualifying person to end their life.

It is understood that the special committee may begin to look at the issue as early as January, and that it will do so for nine months.

People Before Profit TD Gino Kenny and campaigner Vicky Phelan, who has a terminal cancer diagnosis, are among those calling for assisted dying in certain circumstances to be legalised. Phelan has asked the Government for that to be her legacy.  

Contributors to the position paper

Consultant liaison psychiatrist Dr Eric Kelleher, and who contributed to the group’ position paper, said:

“We are acutely aware of the sensitivity of this subject, and understand and support the fact that dying with dignity is the goal of all end-of-life care. Strengthening our palliative care and social support networks makes this possible.

“Where assisted dying is available, many requests stem, not from intractable pain, but from such causes as fear, depression, loneliness, and the wish not to burden carers. With adequate resources, including psychiatric care, psychological care, palliative medicine, pain services, and social supports, good end-of-life care is possible,” he said.

Dr Siobhan MacHale, Consultant Liaison Psychiatrist, another contributor, said that once assisted dying is permitted in a jurisdiction, “experience has shown that more and more people die from assisted dying”.

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“This is usually the result of progressively broadening criteria through legal challenges because, if a right to assisted dying is conceded, there is no logical reason to restrict this to those with a terminal illness.”

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