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College of Psychiatrists of Ireland argues against assisted suicide, for better palliative care

assisted suicide, euthanasia

As Irish legislators prepare for a special committee to review a proposed bill on assisted suicide and euthanasia in the new year, the College of Psychiatrists of Ireland has spoken out against physician-assisted dying. According to The Irish Times, the group represents about 1,000 practicing psychiatrists.

In its recently-published report, the group cites a number of concerns with physician-assisted death, arguing that it goes against the core of their training. They write:

[T]he introduction of physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia represents a radical change in a long-standing tradition of medical practice, as exemplified in the prohibition of deliberate killing in the Irish Medical Council ethics guidelines. We believe it will place vulnerable people at risk, and will lead to harmful consequences, such as an increase in the numbers requesting euthanasia or assisted suicide.

While many advocates for assisted dying point to safeguards in the law to prevent abuse and coercion, the College of Psychiatrists points out that these safeguards are often abused, and vulnerable people often change their minds. In fact, one shocking study found that 72% of older people who had expressed a “wish to die” changed their minds within two years.

The group recognizes this, saying, “Where physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia are available, many requests stem not from intractable pain, but from such causes as fear, depression, loneliness and the wish not to burden carers.” As the study above found, when loneliness and depression are treated, people no longer want to end their lives.

The report also alludes to the slippery slope that occurs once euthanasia and assisted suicide are legalized, saying, “Once permitted, experience has shown that more and more people die from physician-assisted suicide… because if a right to physician-assisted suicide is conceded, there is no logical reason to restrict this to those with a ‘terminal illness.'” The group points out countries like Belgium, which allows euthanasia for children who are in constant suffering, and the Netherlands, where it is legal to euthanize disabled newborns.

READ: New report shows negative impacts of euthanasia on palliative care in Canada

Understanding that “death with dignity” is the main tagline used by many assisted suicide advocates, the group offers its own solution for how that can happen: better palliative care. “A dignified death is the goal of all end-of-life care. This is possible with good palliative care,” they write. “Not only is euthanasia not necessary for a dignified death, but techniques used to bring about death can themselves result in considerable and protracted suffering.”

Indeed, as Live Action News has previously reported, many people are misled by the notion that assisted death is somehow peaceful and comfortable. In reality, the procedure is often painful, prolonged, and inhumane, distressing for both the patient and family members.

The group believes that focusing on better end-of-life care is the solution. “With adequate resources, including psychiatric care, psychological care, palliative medicine, pain services and social supports, good end-of-life care is possible.” To this end, the group gives a number of suggestions, including developing adequate end-of-life care, easing the burden of caregivers, and offering enhanced psychiatric care for the terminally ill.

Dr. Eric Kelleher, one of the paper’s authors, spoke to Newstalk Breakfast after it was published, citing instances in countries like Canada and the Netherlands which have both seen an explosion in assisted deaths since the practice was legalized in those countries.

“There are huge ramifications for enacting this and I think we are far safer as a society if we can strengthen and support our palliative care services, social services and pain services to ensure those living with a terminal illness can access end-of-life care without having to introduce assisted suicide,” he said.

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