Wednesday 16 January 2019

Euthanasia protesters 'attacked free speech'

Seanad and bishop join row after controversial debate called off

Ralph Riegal

PRO-LIFE demonstrators have been accused of a blatant attack on free speech after the controversial abandonment of a medical debate on euthanasia.

The outspoken British doctor, Prof Len Doyal, had to receive a private security escort from Cork University Hospital's lecture theatre amid concerns for his safety after a heated protest threatened to spiral out of control.

Such was the controversy over the proposed public debate on euthanasia or the voluntary ending of life that it sparked an angry denouncement from the Bishop of Cork & Ross Dr John Buckley -- and also triggered an angry row in the Seanad.

Gardai were ultimately called to CUH last Thursday -- but did not intervene -- after repeated attempts by the lecture chairman, Prof Eamon Quigley, to restore order failed.

Prof Doyal was visibly shaken after the incident -- and asked the Sunday Independent about the implications for civil rights of the controversial protest.

"What about free speech? What about the right to discuss issues -- even issues which you may not agree with?" he said.

The Sunday Independent understands that there are no plans to reschedule the lecture by Prof Doyal, who has generated controversy over his support for euthanasia.

The Health Service Executive (HSE) -- who facilitated the debate -- have insisted they did not financially support the event and do not endorse the views under debate.

But last Thursday night's protest infuriated both doctors and people who had attended the lecture to debate the issues involved.

The instant that Prof Doyal was introduced, 20 protesters jumped to their feet in the lecture hall and began heckling and jeering the British medic.

Protesters shouted that euthanasia was state-sponsored murder -- and dozens began loudly chanting the Rosary.

At one point, a protester shouted abuse directly into Prof Doyal's face -- accusing him of supporting cold-blooded murder. All efforts to introduce Prof Doyal for his lecture were drowned out by shouts and jeers.

Outside CUH, almost 30 protesters demonstrated against euthanasia and claimed it was murder by another name.

Gardai were called to CUH but, despite a heavy presence of officers, they did not intervene. Emptying the lecture theatre was ultimately left to hospital security guards.

Earlier, the Bishop of Cork & Ross, Dr John Buckley, slammed euthanasia as wrong and contrary to Christian teaching.

Independent Ireland South MEP Kathy Sinnott expressed outrage that the HSE should have ever facilitated the euthanasia lecture in the first place.

The controversy even reached the Seanad, with Senator David Norris accusing Senator Jim Walsh of "scaremongering" over the issue.

Mr Walsh had said the CUH debate was both scandalous and deplorable.

"We have had tremendous disquiet about some of the goings-on in our nursing homes where there was a strong failure by the HSE to enforce proper standards and regulations," he said.

"I am sure it (the euthanasia debate) will scare every patient in nursing homes throughout the country. It is scandalous and deplorable," he warned.

However, Mr Norris said such comments were "a disgrace" and "a shame on the senator".

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