Thursday 30 October 2014

'My son died by suicide and it should be on his death cert'

Published 09/08/2014 | 02:30

John and Anne Higgins whose son David committed suicide in 2011 photographed at their home in Ballina, Co. Mayo. Photo : Keith Heneghan.
John and Anne Higgins whose son David committed suicide in 2011 photographed at their home in Ballina, Co. Mayo. Photo : Keith Heneghan.

The father of a 19-year-old man who died by suicide has described Joan Burton's new 'short form' death certificates which omit the cause of death as "futile and a waste of time".

The Government is introducing the redacted certificate that leaves blank the manner in which a person died.

They will not replace more detailed certificates, but are an additional option for recording fatalities resulting from suicide, drug abuse or violence.

Social Protection Minister Joan Burton said the move will help limit the suffering of families.

But John Higgins - whose son David took his own life in March 2011 - has described the plan as "pointless".

"I'm not in favour of it at all. Maybe some people will get some solace from it, but definitely it does nothing for me," he told the Irish Independent.

"I look at David's headstone more than I look at his death certificate.

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"I know how he died and when he died. This idea has no real purpose to it."

He also pointed out the trend in recent times has been to encourage people to "speak openly" about suicide.

"But then somebody comes along with this idea of not putting the full facts on a death cert - I think it's a step back.

"The reasons are there on David's certificate as to why he died. We should deal with the facts.

"There is very little merit in the new certificates and this plan definitely won't do anything for us."

John's son entered the River Moy in the early hours of the morning, with alcohol playing a large part in his death.

He was last seen walking along the Lower Bridge in Ballina, Co Mayo. His body was discovered following a 14-day search of the river.

The inquest heard that David had attended a house party where large amounts of alcohol were consumed, and that he had apparently been upset after being asked to leave.

Mr Higgins said the Government would be better served focusing on the "curse" of cut-price alcohol and binge drinking.

"There's always the question of 'why' when it comes to a suicide. And in a lot of cases there is no answer. But in David's case there is. We are certain that the reason he took his life is because he was at a party where things went wrong - and where large quantities of free alcohol were consumed.

"There are tragedies every day of the week with alcohol and they're not highlighted."

The new style death cert has also been criticised by a coroner who says it may play down the extent of Ireland's suicide problem.

Terence Casey, a Killarney-based solicitor, has highlighted the problem in his Coroner's Court on many occasions.

He is convinced the topic should not remain "hidden".

"I believe it's better for people to talk about it. They will then be more inclined to seek help and go to organisations that can help them," he said.

John is convinced "a minimum price on alcohol" will help reduce the amount of binge drinking in Ireland.

"Alcohol is a mind altering drug and there are people in this country whose lives are absolutely ruined by it," he said.

"I'm not just talking about those who are drinking, I'm talking about the people who are living with those who are drinking.

"David's inquest was one of the most difficult days of our lives. At the same time we felt maybe something might change - but sadly it hasn't."

Overall there are approximately 400 deaths from suicide each year in Ireland.

Death certificates are released once the cause is formally determined; this is normally by way of an inquest before a coroner.

Irish Independent

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