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Assisted Dying

Committee on Assisted Dying told Ireland is ‘increasingly’ an outlier in its position

Professor Stephen Duckworth, who is paralysed from the neck down, addressed the Committee to outline how he changed his mind to support assisted dying.

A PROFESSOR WHO is paralysed from the neck down following an accident several decades ago has told the Committee on Assisted Dying that people should have “choice and control of the dying process”.

The committee is currently examining whether to introduce voluntary assisted dying laws in Ireland, following the passage of a bill tabled by People Before Profit TD Gino Kenny in 2020.

Kenny told this morning’s session that the Committee is now at the half-way point of its work and added that the public is “ready for the debate”.

The Committee is today discussing protections for autonomy and assessing decision making capacity.

‘Choice and control’

Dr Stephen Duckworth told the Committee that at the age of 21, he broke his neck in an accident and since then, he gained a PhD in Disability and Equality Politics.

He was previously “fervently opposed to assisted dying” and wrote letters against the practise, but told the Committee that he changed his mind after joining the UK’s Commission on Assisted Dying.

Duckworth in his opening statement said: “I now believe that the opportunity to celebrate our life, to say goodbye to the people we love, and to slip away peacefully on our own terms, avoiding unnecessary pain and suffering – is that not how all of us would want to go?”

While Duckworth noted that he is not terminally ill, he said he wants “choice and control over how I manage that dying process”.

IMG_3356 Dr Stephen Duckworth addressing the Committee on Assisted Dying this morning Oireachtas TV Oireachtas TV

He also noted that “over 206 million people live in places with some form of legislation that enables assistance to die”, and described Ireland as being “increasingly and outlier” in not legislating for it.

Duckworth added that there “high support” among disabled people in favour of legislation enabling access to assisted dying.

“I know that transparent, safeguarded assisted dying legislation and protections for disabled people can co-exist and work effectively,” said Duckworth.

However, he said he did not agree with the approaches being used in countries like Canada, Belgium and the Netherlands, which he described as “liberal”, and that he only agrees with assisted dying with “stringent safeguards”.

He also told the Committee that he only supports assisted dying legislation where someone has a terminal illness which means they have six months or less to live.

‘Assistance in living’

Elsewhere, Professor Anne Doherty, an Associate Professor at the UCD School of Medicine and a consultant liaison psychiatrist, expressed concerns about people with treatable mental illness accessing voluntary assisted dying.

She noted a law change in Canada which allows people to access assisted dying on grounds of mental illness alone.

Doherty also cited the Danish Council of Ethics, who stated in a recent report that it is “in principal impossible to establish proper regulation of euthanasia” that would “prevent someone with a treatable depression from accessing assisted dying”.

IMG_3359 Professor Anne Doherty addressing the Committee on Assisted Dying this morning Oireachtas TV Oireachtas TV

She added that in countries where assisted dying was introduced, “there was no overall reduction in self-initiated deaths, and overall suicide rates did not significantly change”.

Doherty also said that in Oregon and Switzerland, there was a “significant increase in older women seeking assisted dying and dying by suicide”.

She said this is “concerning because older women have high rates of depression”.

“This trend raised the question of whether these deaths were being driven by potentially treatable depressive illnesses being left untreated, and whether there is a gendered impact influencing this,” said Doherty.

Doherty said that mental healthcare in Ireland receives around 6% of the health budget in Ireland, compared to 12-13% in other comparable countries.

She said this needs to be addressed to ensure “we are providing the highest standard possible of health care both mental and physical and that people have full access to adequate palliative care and mental healthcare”.

“It would be a travesty if assisted dying became a substitute for assistance in living.”

‘Exporting our problems’

Meanwhile, Janie Lazar of End of Life Ireland noted that a REDc poll in June found that 76% of respondents want to see legislation for assisted dying.

She told the Committee the State can no longer “continue to export our problems as Ireland did with abortion”.

“Do we want to continue to deny and gloss over, hush up the most tragic cases where people have taken their lives because there is no legislation?” said Lazar.

She added: “We want the peace of mind legislation brings and not have to leave Ireland like a furtive criminal for an assisted death, or have to die earlier to be able to travel whilst still able.”

IMG_3361 Janie Lazar, chair of End of Life Ireland, addressing the Committee on Assisted Dying this morning Oireachtas TV Oireachtas TV

Lazar told the Committee that “the people of Ireland have fought for marriage equality, divorce, abortion” and said that Irish society is now going down a similar path with regards to assisted dying.

“Legislation evolves across all aspects of life, as Ireland has seen with same sex marriage and abortion,” said Lazar.  

“And society hasn’t slid down a slippery slope or collapsed with either, or with the introduction of divorce. 

“Democracy leads to legislative change. Fear ought not stop the progression to legislation.”

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