Assisted suicide should be available on demand to any adult who wants it, the Oireachtas Committee on Assisted Dying has heard. This is the direct equivalent, applied to assisted suicide and euthanasia, of demands from the abortion lobby that a termination of pregnancy be available to women for any reason.
The call came from Philip Nitschke, founder and director of Exit International, which has an Irish branch headed by Tom Curran. Nitschke says no medical condition should be required to qualify, and the medical profession should not have to be involved.
Notably, there was no pushback from pro-euthanasia advocates on the committee such as Gino Kenny and Lynn Ruane who say they want to restrict the procedure to those within six months of death. They frequently pushback against those who warn of a slippery slope even though right in front of them on this occasion was a man who wants us to go right down to the bottom as soon as possible.
Nitschke told the Committee that Ireland should adopt the Swiss model, whereby “any person can be assisted to die, as long as the motive of those providing the assistance is altruistic in kind. In Switzerland, there is no requirement that the person receiving the assistance has been diagnosed with an illness of any kind”.
He mentioned the cases of couples who want to die, where one is sick and the other is not, or elderly people with no terminal or chronic conditions.
“We see too many people who have really good non-medical reasons for wanting to die and I will not try to interfere with them”, he said.
Mental capacity in Switzerland is assumed. A psychiatric assessment is required only if that person has been already diagnosed with a psychiatric or neurological condition. Otherwise, no medical professional need be involved. Assisted suicide is provided on demand. What appears to have kept figures relatively low there is that people have to self-administer their poison. Where doctors do it, numbers availing of the procedure rise rapidly.
Swiss law does not regulate the substances to be used in killing yourself. Nitschke has developed “Sarco”, a suicide machine that releases nitrogen and supposedly kills in a short period of time.
When he began speaking about the specific drugs used to kill those who request assisted suicide, the public session of the Oireachtas Committee had to be suspended as there were concerns about vulnerable members of the public.
Nitschke’s views on assisting patients to die has always been extremely controversial. In 2016 he ended his medical career and left his native Australia, moving to the Netherlands, after his medical licence was temporarily suspended and then the Medical Board imposed on him onerous restrictions. The head of the UK branch of Exit has been convicted of three murders in South Africa for helping three people to end their own lives.
Last week the committee heard that Exit was involved in the assisted suicide in Switzerland of an Irish man with mental health issues.
Nitschke, in his written submission, refers to the Irish director of Exit International, Tom Curran, who also defended the Swiss model when he spoke to the Committee last month. Nitschke and Curran reject the “medical model”, whereby doctors are involved in the assessment of who can qualify for assisted suicide.
Nitschke told the committee members: “My involvement in the right to die movement over the past 27 years has taught me that any framework that creates an exclusive ‘club’ of people with a distinct qualification criteria ends up discriminating against far more people than it will ever help. By its very nature far too many deserving people will find that they do not quite qualify to use such a law: they will not be sick enough, or their diagnosis will have an ambiguous prognosis. People like the late partner of my good colleague and friend Tom Curran, Marie Fleming, provide a good example. With a diagnosis of progressive MS, Marie’s neurologist could never say when she was likely to die. Tom tells the story that Marie could have died in two months, two years or 20 years. No one could say. A medical model law excludes people like Marie. … By thinking beyond the medical model, Ireland is well placed to make laws that benefit the majority, rather than the select few who are sick enough to qualify for a law which by its very nature is exclusionary, rather than inclusionary. Such a law would honour fully the courageous legal battle (and the memory) of Marie Fleming.”
Politicians will not go as far as Exit International wants on this occasion, but they do want to open the door and eventually we could easily get to the appalling world Exit wants of assisted suicide on demand.