The introduction of assisted dying could undermine palliative care and put vulnerable people at risk, according to a leading psychiatrist.
Earlier this year, the Oireachtas Justice Committee rejected the proposed Dying with Dignity Bill and called for a Special Oireachtas Committee to be established to consider the issue.
The legislation would give terminally ill people the right to seek medical assistance to end their life.
In a newly published position paper on the proposals, the College of Psychiatrists of Ireland has said that euthanasia is not necessary for a dignified death and warned that the techniques used can “result in considerable and protracted suffering”.
On Newstalk Breakfast this morning, one of the paper’s authors, Consultant Liaison Psychiatrist Dr Eric Kelleher, said other countries that introduced euthanasia for the terminally ill, quickly expanded the legislation to other scenarios.
He noted that after introducing assisted dying for the terminally ill, it took Canada less than four years to expand the legislation to include people with chronic illnesses.
“In 2023, it will include those with mental illness alone,” he said.
“So in 2023, in Canada, you won’t need to have any physical illness at all to access assisted death.
“So there is going to be this incredible situation where on one hand, you will have the Government and healthcare advocating for suicide prevention and on the other hand they will be providing assisted suicide for those with mental illness.”
Dr Kelleher said there is also evidence that the introduction of assisted dying can lead to a normalisation of suicide in the general population.
“There has been some information from the Netherlands that the suicide rate can also rise in conjunction with rising rates of assisted suicide and euthanasia,” he said.
He said there is “so much more we can do” as a country to support people facing terminal diagnoses.
“There are so many heart-breaking stories from individuals grappling with terminal illness and fearful for the future,” he said.
“They are in a very difficult place and certainly my heart goes out to them but I think we must ultimately realise that this law will not just affect those with terminal illness alone.
“It will affect people in wider society whose voices may not be heard in this debate because, by their nature, they are vulnerable who may be affected by this law if it comes to pass.”
Dr Kelleher said the Netherlands has seen a 327% increase in assisted dying since it was legalised while Canada has seen a 340% increase.
“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.
Anyone affected by the issues discussed in this article can contact Samaritans on 116 123.