Opponents of euthanasia are pushing back against a bill in Ireland meant to legalize it. They argue that while it is widely believed that euthanasia is reserved only for those in unbearable pain and facing certain death, this is untrue. They are concerned that legalizing assisted dying will take the focus away from helping people to live well and refocus it on helping them to commit suicide.
A leading palliative care doctor and member of the House of Lords, Ilora Finlay, spoke of the dangers of the legislation at a recent End of Life Matters conference. She noted that based on a 2019 Health Authority report from Oregon, people seek death by assisted suicide because they feel “less able to engage in activities making life enjoyable” or the fear they will be a “burden on family, friends, and caregivers.” At the bottom of the list of reasons is “inadequate control of pain or concern about it.” 53% of those who died by euthanasia in Oregon in 2020 said they wanted to die because they felt like a burden to their family. That emotional pain, she said, can heighten the physical pain.
“[P]ain is multifactorial, is an experience, a physical stimulus to pain made worse by social, emotional, and spiritual anguish,” she explained. “If you feel that you’re a burden, you feel your pain worse. If you’re unhappy, your pain feels worse to you. … But it’s worth noting, this is not the reason people are seeking death.”
Finlay warned there is no way to know how long a person will live. She has cared for some patients whom she thought would live for years who declined and died rapidly, yet other patients whom she thought had just weeks to live, went on to live for years. The bill states that only those considered “terminally ill” would be allowed to seek euthanasia, however, someone can be “terminally ill” for decades.
Another issue with the bill is that it says the person must have a “clear and settled intention” to die, she explained, but people will often change their minds. They will say they want to die but then a few days later begin to feel better and are happy to be alive.
Anti-suicide activist Elma Walsh spoke out against the bill as well. Her son died of cancer in 2013, and though she was concerned about the hospice he would go through, he was actually able to live a normal teenage life until his death. She worries that legalizing assisted suicide will normalize suicide in general.
Also speaking at the conference was Conor Lynott, a 24-year-old who has spastic diplegia cerebral palsy. According to The Irish Times, Lynott is concerned that legalizing assisted suicide will shift the focus from helping people with disabilities or illnesses to live well and independently to pushing them towards assisted death due to discrimination.
An English actress also spoke out against euthanasia in Ireland. She herself has arthrogryposis multiplex congenita and uses a wheelchair. She said that the line between terminally ill and disabled will blur with the legalization of assisted suicide because people who are not disabled often falsely believe that life with a disability is not worth living. She said people often tell her she is brave to live with her condition because they wouldn’t be able to do so.
“Rather than telling us we have everything to live for — and we do — we are helped to the proverbial cliff edge and offered a push,” she said. That very situation is playing out in Canada for Roger Foley, who has cerebellar ataxia and has been denied real health care because assisted suicide is available.
In the Netherlands, Oregon, Canada, and Belgium, where assisted death is legal, the number of people who have died in this manner has steadily been rising. People wrongly believe their death will be simple and peaceful, but Finlay warns that it won’t be. It isn’t a simple pill, but a stack of pills. And if it’s an injection, the person dies by drowning as their lungs fill with fluid. The idea that you die quickly is wrong as well, she said. Sometimes it’s five minutes, sometimes people wake up again, and sometimes it’s as many as 100 hours before death arrives.
“This isn’t a gentle peaceful death. It just looks peaceful,” said Finlay, “because they can’t move their muscles and they’re paralyzed.”
Euthanasia unfortunately serves to prematurely end a life that could have been well-lived for years to come with proper care.
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