Irish Medical Council removes directive against ‘deliberate killing’ by doctors

euthanasia, killing, physician-assisted death, assisted suicide, California

Only five years after the legalization of abortion in Ireland, protections against euthanasia — the active killing of patients by doctors — have been removed from the latest Irish Medical Council’s Guide to Professional Conduct and Ethics for Registered Medical Practitioners. The new guide took effect on January 1, 2024.

According to its website, the Medical Council “regulates medical doctors in the Republic of Ireland.” The Council regulates “over 21,000 doctors” who are required to register in order to legally practice medicine under their jurisdiction. “The Council’s purpose is to protect the public by promoting and better ensuring high standards of professional conduct and professional education, training and competence among doctors,” according to the webpage.

The Irish Medical Council is made of 25 political appointees (five positions are currently vacant) with only nine positions currently filled by medical professionals. Of that group, a smaller subgroup updated the guidelines to eliminate an explicit restriction against euthanasia by doctors. The amended version removed a directive that doctors “must not take part in the deliberate killing of a patient.” This is seen by many as a precursor to permitting doctors to euthanize or assist a patient’s suicide should it become legal under Irish law.

READ: Second man seeks assisted suicide in Canada due to homelessness

While the actual Medical Council’s membership currently consists of mostly non-medical appointees, Ireland’s largest doctor’s group, the Royal College of Physicians, maintains an opposition to assisted suicide. In 2023, it said that “the potential harms outweigh the arguments that can be made in favor.” 

Doctors have come under criticism for their implicit biases against women, children, people with disabilities, and ethnic minorities. Studies and analyses undergird the understanding that “[p]hysicians are not immune to implicit bias.” In fact, “uncertainty and time pressure surrounding the diagnostic process may promote reliance on stereotypes for efficient decision-making.” The removal of safeguards against doctors participating in the “deliberate killing” of a patient is viewed by many as a mistake. The Iona Institute has been critical of the Medical Council’s decision, stating, “What has taken place represents a seismic shift in true medical ethics that date back to Hippocrates in Ancient Greece.”

It continues in its statement, “No longer telling doctors that they cannot take part in the deliberate killing of patients is not medical ethics, it is the opposite. It is shameful that the Medical Council has gone down this path, clearly with the blessing of the Minister for Health. Hopefully the doctors of Ireland will push back against this incredibly retrograde step.”  

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