Thursday 19 July 2018

'We're all going to die, let's do it in a way that maximises support' - medical expert on why he disagrees with euthanasia

(stock photo)
(stock photo)
Kathy Armstrong

Kathy Armstrong

If euthanasia was legalised here people might opt for assisted suicide out of fear of what would happen in the future, an expert has said.

Professor Des O'Neill, School of Medicine at Trinity College, compared assisted suicide to wanting an infected tooth removed and said we should ensure that there are adequate supports available for vulnerable people instead.

Speaking on Newstalk Breakfast, he said: "What is crazy is this sense that there is a significant reservoir of people who die in what they feel are unacceptable circumstances.

"Death is always challenging, there is grief and loss, but most of the evidence is that most people die with dignity and indeed many of the people who have been applicants for this have ended up dying natural deaths.

"I think the issue around autonomy is that we are absolute in medicine people will not get burdened on treatment, that people do not die unnecessarily on tubes.

"What I would say is that anybody who has ever had a severe tooth abscess in the middle of the night, you would almost give anything to have that tooth taken out.

"But thankfully the next morning the dentist will say that it's more important to preserve that and will give you antibiotics and deal with it.

"The concern is that people in the moment who are under-supported will turn to terminating their lives out of fear of what will happen in the future and we need to reassure them."

Read More:  When do we lose the right to choose?

He also said it's important he feels that we shouldn't make suicide ever to feel "laudable."

He said: "There are concerns that there may be a degree of a lack of information in this area around history and ethics, whether it's the collusion of the German medical profession and the T4 Euthanasia programme in Germany or the Swedish profession and the forced sterilisation of people with disabilities.

"This actually negates the caring and actually causes very serious concerns around if we think there are two types of suicide - one that we try to avoid because people are suffering and another which seems somehow laudable, despite the fact that we are talking to people who are also suffering."

Prof O'Neill continued to say: "I think the current HSE campaign about identifying with people with dementia is very helpful in this regard but also you can make massive improvements by looking at it with a positive proactive approach, trying to develop services.

"Many of us in medicine see assisted suicide as one which negates to impulse to improve lives of people and one which denies our existential vulnerability, which you or I have.

"We've all got vulnerabilities, we're all  going to die but let's do it in such a way that maximises our care and support."

Read More: Belgium reports first case of euthanasia for a minor

Dr Louise Campbell, from NUI Galway, said that she feels there are situations where people should be assisted with dying.

She said: "What we are talking about is a person's fundamental right to determine for themselves the value and the quality of the life that they are living.

"People will define the value of the lives they are living in different ways and define unbearable suffering in different ways.

"People will still die in ways that are absolutely at odds with everything they value and those are the people who when they make the request, the medical profession in some jurisdictions feel have a right to request medical assistance in dying."

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