Some of us were lucky enough that our parents lived into old age. My mother was in her 91st year and father in his 95th year when they died, three years apart. For us, as family, it meant ensuring they were adequately cared for. All siblings became part of a rota to ensure their needs were met.
There were difficult days. It’s hard to watch someone you dearly love suffer. Mam would pray, “Jesus take me” and Dad sometimes wondered what there was to get up for. Mam was gone, his siblings were gone, as were his close friends and relations. Sometimes, getting up, getting dressed and moving about were major chores.
It begs the eternal question, ‘What is suffering?’ And the only reply that makes sense is that suffering is a mystery. Chicken or egg?
The ‘Dying with Dignity Bill’ is currently going through the Dáil. This is about euthanasia and assisted suicide. Active euthanasia is when ‘a doctor ends the life of a patient, often by providing him or her with a lethal prescription of drugs.’ Passive euthanasia is ‘when a patient’s treatment is terminated, in order to hasten the death of the patient.’
Euthanasia can be voluntary (requested), non-voluntary (done in the absence of the patient’s intentions) or involuntary (against the patient’s consent). In Assisted Suicide (also known as Physician Assisted Death/Physician Aid in Dying) a doctor helps a patient to die by suicide. Some countries (and states) legally support either one or both, from Canada to Western Australia.
A Belgian woman, Godelieva De Troyer, was euthanised without her family’s consent and her son, Tom Mortier, has referred the case to the European Court of Human Rights.
In Ireland in 2013, ‘the constitutionality of the Criminal Law (Suicide) Act 1993 was upheld in both the High Court and Supreme Court, in the landmark Fleming v Ireland decision. Whilst the Supreme Court determined that there was no constitutional right to assisted suicide, it did state that the Oireachtas was free to pass legislation regulating it.’
In 2015 a woman prosecuted in the Dublin Circuit Criminal Court for assisting another person to die by suicide was found not guilty. Passive euthanasia (quickening of the patient’s by removing feeding tubes, etc) is permissible in Ireland since the Supreme Court decision in In Re Ward of Court 1996.
The Medical Council Guidelines state in section 46 of its Guide to Professional Conduct and Ethics (8th Edition 2019): 46.9 You must not take part in the deliberate killing of a patient. The ethical guidelines around passive Euthanasia are also given in this section: 46.3 Usually, you will give treatment that is intended to prolong a patient’s life. However, there is no obligation on you to start or continue treatment, including resuscitation, or provide nutrition and hydration by medical intervention, if you judge that the treatment is unlikely to work; or might cause the patient more harm than benefit; or is likely to cause the patient pain, discomfort or distress that will outweigh the benefits it may bring.
This information is available on the Hope Ireland website (hopeireland.org), ‘a coalition of medical professionals and disability rights advocates who aim to bring informed perspectives to the debate around euthanasia and assisted suicide in Ireland.’ They argue that ‘the introduction of assisted suicide and euthanasia is a regressive step for vulnerable people – particularly the elderly and those with disabilities.’
No professional medical body in Ireland supports the Dying with Dignity Bill which has ‘very few safeguards’ to protect vulnerable people. ‘This Bill normalises suicide at a particularly vulnerable time and will undermine all suicide prevention principles and efforts.’
Quaker mystic Thomas Kelly (1893–1941) wrote: “Eternity is at our hearts, pressing upon our time-torn lives, warming us with intimations of an astounding destiny, calling us home unto Itself. Yielding to these persuasions, gladly committing ourselves in body and soul, utterly and completely, to the Light Within, is the beginning of true life.”
Why is euthanasia/assisted dying legislation currently being proposed in Ireland, Spain, Brazil and other countries? Who is sponsoring this? Which vested interests benefit? Mam and Dad would certainly have asked those questions, despite their pain.