You have not read the headline on this piece incorrectly. In a huge and almost unnoticed change to the code of conduct that governs doctors in Ireland, new ethical guidelines from the Irish Medical Council no longer include a prohibition against the deliberate killing of a patient. The prohibition on doctors deliberately killing patients is old-age. What has taken place represents a seismic shift in true medical ethics that date back to Hippocrates in Ancient Greece.
The 2016 ‘Guide to Professional Conduct and Ethics for Medical Practitioners’ included the line: “You must not take part in the deliberate killing of a patient.” It was in the ‘End of Life Care’ section. This line is now gone and has not been replaced by anything similar.
It seems perfectly clear what is happening. If the Government legalises euthanasia, the ethics code for doctors will no longer get in the way.
It is important to note that the Minister for Health oversees appointments to the Medical Council. Very few members of the Council are elected by doctors themselves. Notably, GPs were not consulted ahead of the change being made.
The new code makes other changes that are almost as bad. For example, it weakens the previous section on conscientious objection. In addition, it no longer forbids doctors from taking part in human embryo experimentation or in human cloning.
The entire section on Assisted Human Reproduction that appeared in the 2016 version is gone. Among other things, that section told doctors: “Assisted human reproduction treatments such as In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF) should only be used after thorough investigation has shown that no other treatment is likely to be effective.” Who lobbied to have this removed? Why was it done without proper debate?
The new code is a gigantic step backwards from an ethical point of view. No longer telling doctors that they cannot take part in the deliberate killing of patients is not medical ethics, it is the opposite. It is shameful that the Medical Council has gone down this path, clearly with the blessing of the Minister for Health. Hopefully the doctors of Ireland will push back against this incredibly retrograde step.