A matter of perhaps supreme irony amid the current corona crisis is the appearance of a Bill on the Oireachtas floor to legalise euthanasia in the Republic as well as the support it has received from the media galleries. While the Irish economy creaks beneath the weight of technocratic NPHET fiats, under the auspices of protecting the elderly, liberal opinion presently seeks to fast-track euthanasia, all the while earnestly defending the aforementioned lockdown. Forwarded as a Private Members Bill by the Trotskyist TD Gino Kenny, the ‘Dying with Dignity Bill’ was originally formulated by the now departed Minister of State for Training and Skills John Haligan in 2015.
The former Independent Alliance TD and long-time euthanasia advocate drew attention recently with statements of how he had himself assisted individuals attain an assisted suicide through the Swiss non-profit Dignitas. Additionally the Bill has received largely favourable cross-party support as well as positive endorsements from the Irish Examiner, and cervical cancer campaigner Vicky Phelan.
While unlikely to pass first-time, many Oireachtas members have voiced support, even among the ruling coalition.
Under Irish law, while a degree of discretion is provided to doctors to hasten the death of moribund patients, actively assisting with a suicide is proscribed as falling under the remit of murder or manslaughter, depending on the factors involved, with potentially 14 years imprisonment under the Criminal Law Act of 1993. In Ireland actual prosecution of medical professionals is effectively non-existent, with many allegorical stories abounding of discrete practices employed in certain cases.
In 2011, Gail O’Rorke stood trial and was acquitted for providing barbiturates to her friend Bernadette Forde, who was incapacitated from advanced multiple sclerosis. O’Rorke, who was charged on three counts of assisting her friend’s death, was acquitted by the courts in 2015. O’Rorke, like Phelan, has aired her support for Deputy Kelly’s Bill.
In 2013, the Supreme Court ruled against the right of Marie Fleming to end her own life. It was a highly publicised case that saw the 60 year-old multiple sclerosis patient and her husband plead their predicament on the national airwaves.
Applying solely to individuals above the age of 18, the Bill lays out the process by which assisted dying may occur per the approval of a medical professional. Under the proposed criteria an individual seeking to end their life would need to consent in writing, along with a witness who stands not to benefit from the death, as well as the signoff from a doctor. Once the mental capacity of a patient (or soon to be victim) has been assessed, and after a 14 day period has passed to allow time to reconsider, fatal substances to induce death can be orally ingested under medical supervision.
While illegal in most former Eastern bloc nations, euthanasia was famously liberalised in the 2000s by Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands. Furthermore, a February decision this year by the Federal Constitional Court in Germany ruled that seeking an induced suicide falls under the remit of personal autonomy.
Switzerland, where euthanasia for medical reasons has been legalised since 1937, has made a name for itself as a cottage industry in this field, even accommodating foreigners who are seeking an assisted suicide. Controversy also arose in Belgium, a nation arguably with the world’s most liberal euthanasia laws, over court rulings that vindicated the right of prisoners serving life sentences to attain a medical suicide, as well as the euthanisation of children since the year 2016.
In America, assisted suicide is legal in certain western states such as Oregon and Vermount, albeit with claims that insurance companies were strongarming infirm patients to seek the option in order to mitigate medical costs.
Opponents of euthanasia in Ireland mainly herald from the Catholic right, citing the benefit of pallative care, as well as concerns that vulnerable individuals may be coerced into ending their lives.
While normally just another social battlefield between the progressive clique governing the country in overdrive the past decade, and the residual voices of Catholic Ireland, the debate has taken new significance in light of the recent Covid-19 turmoil.
With the majority of deaths from Covid-19 occuring in the over-80 age bracket, clamouring to legalise euthanasia after effectively crashing the Irish economy under the guise of protecting the elderly reeks of political hypocrsicy. While there are clear emotional cases for liberalisation, the discretion given to doctors at present largely covers those cases.
Death, even with modern medicine, is a tricky process. It very often involves pain, and so even under the most stringent of legal regimes and criteria forwarded in this Bill, abuses will occur. Anyone who has experienced the avarice expressed by amoral members of one’s family upon the death of a relative, and the subsequent dividing up of an estate, knows the potential for the elderly to be directed into ending their own lives, even under medical approval.
Similarly what little moral authority the State commands over the population for the duration of this lockdown ought to evaporate, should the Bill proceed to be passed. Lockdown has and will have its own unreported death toll through suicides spurred on by economic downturn and missed medical procedures. As shown by an uptick in suicides following the 2008 Crash, unemployment is directly proportional to spikes in suicide.
There is also the potential, however morbid, that similar to health insurance companies in America allegedly incentivising euthanasia, a cash-strapped as well as ageing state may cynically attempt to foist the option on the infirm.
While perhaps not as socially egregious as the 2018 Private Members Bill covering sexual education proposed by the electorally vanquished Ruth Coppinger, the Bill typifies how a vocal communist minority in the Oireachtas can set the tempo on social issues. The present binary in the Oireachtas, regardless of party affiliation, consists of apolitical careerists being dragged leftward by a charged political minority, with only a few token Catholic voices in opposition, this Bill being another example.
With the potential for the Bill being referred, ergo kicked into the long grass, through use of the Citizens Assembly and it already being stalled by a 2018 Joint Oireachtas Committee, it is uncertain that it will slide into legislation in the immediate future. However by prioritising legalising euthanasia while the nation takes severe economic blows, allegedly to protect the elderly, points to a salient amount of hypocrsiy among Ireland’s progressive caste. With the surge of abortions in the aftermath of legalisation last year as well as worrying trends from abroad it is clear that whatever the merit or demerits regarding euthanasia it cannot be left in the hands of the present regime.