Saturday 3 December 2016

Little difference between assisted suicide and voluntary euthanasia, expert tells High Court

Dearbhail McDonald Legal Editor

Published 13/12/2012 | 12:24

A UK end-of-life expert has told the High Court he does not see major moral or practical distinctions between "technical ways of administering death" such as assisted suicide (AS) and voluntary active euthanasia.

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Professor Rob George is one of two witnesses called by the State to give evidence in a landmark challenge to the criminal ban on assisted suicide by Multiple Sclerosis sufferer Marie Fleming.

Assisted suicide can attract a maximum sentence of 14 years in jail.

Under cross examination by Senior Counsel Ronan Murphy, for Ms Fleming, the palliative-care specialist said that Dutch doctors prefer to perform voluntary euthanasia because an estimated one in four assisted suicides fail and doctors then have to intervene.

Euthanasia and assisted suicide are legal in Dutch law.

This morning, Prof George told High Court judge Mr Justice Gerard Hogan that clinicians in the UK were under an "active duty" to stop a patient actively committing suicide where they had expressed suicidal ideas even if they were able-bodied.

"Everybody is required to do as much as they can to restrain them (patients)," said Prof George who added that "enormous weight" should be given to the patients’ view of their own value of their life.

"I would take it (the patient's view) extremely seriously," said Prof George who said people freely act in ways to harm their health such as smoking, drinking and refusing treatment.

Ms Fleming, 58, who is in the final stages of MS, is challenging the constitutionality of Ireland's ban on assisted suicide.

She also wants orders requiring the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) to outline the factors to be taken into account in deciding whether to prosecute assisted suicide.

The case continues before a specially convened three-judge High Court known as a Divisional Court.

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