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Colleges express concern about Oireachtas report on assisted dying

By Reporter - 20th Mar 2024

The recommendation of a report by the joint Oireachtas committee on assisted dying to introduce both assisted suicide and euthanasia for people with terminal illnesses and between six and 12 months to live will have significant ramifications for palliative and end-of-life care in Ireland, and for the most vulnerable in our society, according to the College of Psychiatrists of Ireland.

Prof Siobhan MacHale, Consultant Liaison Psychiatrist and member of the human rights and ethics committee of the College, said: “The Oireachtas Committee’s recommendation of the introduction of assisted suicide and euthanasia in Ireland undermines Irish society’s strong focus on suicide prevention policy.”

“Any terminal diagnosis is by its nature deeply upsetting and can often lead to a patient experiencing a wish to die in the course of the associated shock and grief. The College believes that we can do better in providing compassionate care to those who are dying than to introduce assisted suicide and euthanasia in Ireland.”

Dr Eric Kelleher, Consultant Liaison Psychiatrist and member of the human rights and ethics committee of the College, said: “We continue to strongly advocate for providing the necessary funding and resources to offer an optimal palliative and end of life care experience for patients, and for their carers. We need to identify and learn from the gaps in our care each and every time we fail to achieve this.”

The College believes that more time is needed to properly assess and examine the potential ramifications of the introduction of assisted dying and euthanasia in Ireland.

The RCPI also issued a statement on the report, which was published on Wednesday 20 March.

The RCPI noted the recommendations of the Oireachtas committee and stated the College opposes the introduction of any legislation supportive of assisted suicide because it is contrary to best medical practice.

This position, adopted by the RCPI governing council in 2017, was developed by a working group comprising representatives from a range of specialities within the College. The group reviewed research literature and the positions of medical professional bodies in Ireland and worldwide and made a recommendation to RCPI council. A further evidence review was carried out in 2021 and RCPI shared its report and gave expert testimony to the Oireachtas Committee.

Dr Diarmuid O’Shea, RCPI President, said: “Dying and death are part of a continuum of care for any person with a chronic or life limiting illness.  Dying with dignity in our society is made possible by the delivery of compassionate, supportive and expert care by physicians, nurses, health and social care professionals and others working in hospitals, hospices, GP practices and other community settings across our country.  Such care and the people providing it should be appropriately supported and funded.”

Dr Feargal Twomey, Chair of the RCPI expert group and a Consultant in Palliative Medicine,  added: “These efforts are supported by specialist palliative care teams, by the efforts of families and friends, and by extension, the support of society. Legislating for assisted suicide threatens to undermine those efforts. Introduction of legislation on assisted suicide has the potential for immense harm and unintended consequences and our view is that the potential harms outweigh the arguments in favour of legislation for assisted suicide.”

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