Doctors' group backs 'right to die' campaign

Medics say some terminally ill patients 'deserve to have the choice'

BATTLE: Multiple sclerosis patient Marie Fleming fought for the right to opt for a medically assisted death. Photo: Niall Carson/PA Wire

Ali Bracken 

A newly formed group of GPs has proposed introducing new laws to allow medically assisted dying, saying its rollout is possible in a "safe and fair manner".

In a written submission to the Oireachtas justice committee which is considering the Dying with Dignity Bill, the 105-member Irish Doctors supporting Medical Assistance in Dying (IDsMAiD) group says that in certain cases of terminal illness, "patients deserve to have their choice respected".

The bill has been tabled by People Before Profit TD Gino Kenny and is seeking to legalise assisted dying in certain circumstances for patients with terminal illness.

It passed to committee stage in October, following a Dáil vote.

There have been more than 1,000 submissions both supporting and opposing the proposed new laws, according to Mr Kenny.

In the IDsMAiD submission, the doctors state the bill's criteria for qualifying for assisted dying is appropriately "conservative and restrictive" and that the safeguards proposed are "conservative, balanced and fair".

Regulation, monitoring and reporting of assisted dying must take place to ensure accountability and transparency and to foster trust in the public, the group added.

The GPs also argue that "hypothetical fears" that such legislation would harm Irish society are "insufficient reason to condemn people with terminal illness to unnecessary suffering".

Dr Andrew Lyne, a GP based in Tower, Cork, helped draft IDsMAiD's submission.

He said his "guilty conscious awoke" when he became aware of the Dying with Dignity Bill. "Like others in 2013 I followed Marie Fleming's Supreme Court 'right to die' case," he said.

"She was in the final stages of multiple sclerosis and her physical condition had deteriorated so that she was unable to operate her electric wheelchair.

"She was in severe pain, was bed-bound for much of the day and had very limited use of her hands.

"She was unable to access palliative care although the benefits of palliative care would have been very limited.

"Unfortunately for Marie Fleming the law was unflinching and cruel, denying her an escape from her pain and suffering.

"As a citizen I felt angry that my country would treat an individual with so little compassion.

"As a doctor I was ashamed of my profession for the lack of empathy for her predicament."

The GP added that it was his belief that it is "morally wrong" to insist that people are denied the choice of assisted dying and are forced to live through the suffering at the end of a terminal illness.

"We advocate for the introduction of a restrictive provision of medical assistance in dying, confined to adults who have capacity to give consent and have a terminal illness," he said.

"We simply want to offer choice to those who are already dying from the terminal illness."