Senator Rónán Mullen

News Release, Wednesday, 20th March 2024

Case for Assisted Dying has not been established: “No lives are not worth living.”

– Healy Rae, Troy, Mullen present dissenting minority recommendations

Three members of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Assisted Dying, including the Chairperson, Michael Healy-Rae TD, today published a set of agreed recommendations including that the existing ban on assisted dying should be maintained, and that no change be made to the Criminal Law Suicide Act 1993.

The case for assisted dying has not been established, “whereas the case against any change is overwhelming,” say Deputy Healy-Rae, Robert Troy TD and Senator Rónán Mullen. “There are no lives not worth living,” the three Members urge in their recommendations.

Deputy Healy-Rae and Senator Mullen presented the agreed recommendations following the earlier launch of the Report of the Committee on Assisted Dying. The Minority’s recommendations include:

-that carers be robustly supported in their caring duties;
-that all healthcare providers, including those working in palliative care, develop a model of care known as ‘intensive caring’ presented to the Committee;
-that sufficient funding be provided for suicide prevention programmes, including addressing the causes of suicide among older people;
-that further funding be made so that high-quality palliative care services can be available countrywide”;

-that “much-increased mental health supports be provided to identify depression problems”.

The members also call for studies on ableism in Irish society, on the impact of economic disadvantage and health inequalities on causing people to feel a burden. They call for ongoing studies into pain management and pain research, as well as for research into the problem of coercion. “Given that the abuse of older people is largely under-diagnosed, additional training for all medical staff in assessing abuse and coercion would be helpful.”

The dissenting members say that honouring these requests will help create a “more equal society, helping all citizens to live and die in an environment that respects their dignity.

Addressing the media, Deputy Healy-Rae and Senator Mullen warned that attempts to provide assisted suicide in cases of terminal illness, while setting out to exclude other requests, might well fail on equality grounds. Also, they said, medical experts who came before the Committee, including leading psychiatrists, had stressed that persons with mental health challenges might well get caught up in assisted dying, even under restrictive rules.

The dissenting members said that the Committee Report, while recommending certain safeguards including that coercion into assisted suicide would be a criminal offence, didn’t adequately address “the difficulties posed by the risk of societal coercion”.

Deputy Healy-Rae said he regretted that the Committee had voted against a recommendation to make it a criminal offence for any health professional to advertise assisted dying or to initiate the question of assisted dying with patients.

“Any advertising or initiation of conversations around assisted dying could endanger vulnerable and suggestible persons coping with terminal illness. It would also leave them more exposed to the risk of coercion.”

Mr Healy-Rae and Senator Mullen said that the Committee Report didn’t manage to limit the potential gravity and risks of abuse in what it was proposing.

The Committee should have recommended not just the prior implementation of the UNCRPD treaty on disabilities but it also a prior requirement for supports for palliative care and supports for persons with disabilities. There was a ‘clear signal’ from representatives of those with disabilities that they wanted assisted living, not assisted dying, they said.

“The voice from organisations representing persons with disability was clear: we should first build a society where people are able to live life on equal terms, free from discrimination. Without this, hidden coercion will be a reality for the vulnerable,” Senator Mullen added.

The Committee should have drawn a clearer distinction between ‘assisted suicide’ (where the person seeking to have their life ended takes the final step), and euthanasia (where a third party ends the patient’s life). The evidence shows that the numbers of procured deaths are much higher where euthanasia is legal, Senator Mullen said.

Deputy Healy-Rae expressed surprise that the Committee didn’t heed “the clear voice” of medical professionals who believe that doctor-patient trust would be undermined by assisted dying. “Less harmful, even if still high risk, would be a model where applications for assisted dying would be handled by a licensing body, outside of the mainstream healthcare sector, but the problem is that the Committee presents assisted dying as a healthcare concern. A society with assisted dying cannot properly protect the vulnerable in society. It will be even less able to do so if assisted dying is built into its healthcare system in any way.”

Senator Mullen said he had tabled amendments to require the involvement of solicitors in requests for assisted dying, to reduce the danger of suggestible or vulnerable people being exploited. He had also proposed the requirement of a sign-off by a High Court judge to keep decisions out of the hands of doctors and to keep numbers low. The Committee majority had disregarded both proposals, he said.

Deputy Healy-Rae quoted the Danish Council of Ethics, which had recently considered the issue and had decisively rejected assisted dying. It had said, ‘The very existence of an offer of assisted dying will decisively change our ideas about old age, the coming of death, quality of life and what it means to take others into account. … If we offer assisted dying, it says, directly or indirectly, that some lives are not worth living.’

“My worry is that instead of ‘some lives’ it could be ‘many lives’ if the Committee’s recommendations see the light of day in law, Deputy Healy-Rae said.

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