A spokesperson for Fianna Fáil has told the Medical Independent that the party would not oppose the referral of assisted suicide to a Citizens’ Assembly for further discussion. When something of this kind was done before it helped to pave the way for abortion. It appears that no major party is now actively opposed to the introduction of legislation permitting euthanasia and assisted suicide. Several, like Fine Gael, are neutral for the time being.
This is all part of a process. You move your position from opposition to neutrality to support. We have seen this happen recently with the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) in the UK which has shifted from opposition to neutrality, but using a mechanism that was set up to achieve the desired outcome.
In 2014, 57.6% of the RCP membership opposed a change in the law that would legalise assisted suicide. In January this year, after announcing the third poll on this topic among its members since 2006, it was decreed that a 60% majority was needed to stop changing the RCP position to non-opposition. This means that even if 59.9% were against the change, it would have occurred nonetheless. Such a majority was even more difficult to achieve as three options were given (yes, no or neutral), while the previous vote was binary (yes or no).
A group of members of the RCP have challenged the organisation in court, arguing that “the use of a ‘super-majority’ vote on such issues is without precedent in professional organisations in the UK.
We learn from the experience of other countries that the introduction of assisted suicide and euthanasia on some limited ground (for terminally ill patients, for instance) leads in time to a more permissive law. Once the general principle that doctors should not participate in procuring death is eroded, it is difficult to change the trend and go back.
Also, if we believe a patient has a ‘right to die’, why limit it? This is the logic behind ultra-liberal abortion laws.
Using this same logic, psychiatrist Mark Komrad has said, “Several governments, in the last two decades, have invited and permitted physicians to transgress the prohibition against killing their patients. … Originally, the class who can be voluntarily killed or helped to suicide was limited to those at the very end of life. However, principles of justice have made it very difficult to limit such procedures to that category of people. The more experience a country has with such practices, the more the horizon of eligibility has expanded far beyond extreme end-stage cases.”
As if to prove the point, influential Guardian columnist, Polly Toynbee has actually welcomed the slippery slope to more and more euthanasia when she wrote: “Another bad argument [against euthanasia] is that the frail will be intimidated into hastening the end of their lives so as not to be a burden to their children. Well, why not?”
The late Baroness Mary Warnock said (chillingly): “If you are demented, you are wasting people’s lives, your family’s lives, and you are wasting the resources of the National Health Service”.
So, the direction of travel is clear: towards assisted suicide, and the Citizens’ Assembly could well be used to this end. The only thing that might stop it is public opposition from the hospice movement which is against assisted suicide and is more familiar than anyone else with end-of-life issues.